The No. 2 Arizona Wildcats had no time for Cinderella tales Thursday against the 15th-seeded North Dakota Fighting Hawks.
Arizona cruised to a commanding 100-82 victory and sent a message to the rest of the West Region. It was just the first round, but this team has Final Four-caliber talent and an offense that can go off at any given moment.
Anthony Gimino of Tucson News Now noted that offense is clicking at just the right time:
Teams don't crack the century mark without a balanced attack. Lauri Markkanen, Allonzo Trier and the rest of the Wildcats starters all scored in double figures:
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As a whole, Arizona shot a blistering 58.1 percent from the field and ensured there would be no late drama by connecting on 24 of 28 free throws. The offense did more than enough to win comfortably, but the defense had trouble with North Dakota at times, as evidenced by Quinton Hooker's 25 points and Drick Bernstine's 20.
The Wildcats played cat-and-mouse with the Fighting Hawks for the opening few minutes and found themselves behind 12-11. That apparently woke them up, because they responded with a 13-1 run and went on an offensive tear for the rest of the game.
Arizona's superior athleticism was on full display, and it consistently knifed through North Dakota's defense to find easy looks. The result was 53 first-half points and a 16-point advantage at intermission.
The disparity wasn't much of a surprise considering Ken Pomeroy's pace-adjusted numbers ranked Arizona's offense 21st in the nation and North Dakota's defense 139th following the contest.
The Fighting Hawks had no answer for the 7'0" Markkanen when the outcome was still hanging in the balance. The Finland native poured in 16 first-half points, and the team's Twitter account provided a quick recap of the action:
Arizona's leading scorer, Trier, wasn't about to let his teammate have all the fun, as CBS Sports highlighted:
That type of offense meant the Wildcats were still largely in control early in the second half, but Hooker, Corey Baldwin and Bernstine made them sweat by cutting the deficit to seven with a 13-5 run.
Gimino was not impressed with Arizona's defensive effort:
Just when it looked like North Dakota actually had some hope, Arizona locked in on the defensive side.
The momentum swings followed a similar pattern to the first half, as Christopher Deak of the Daily Wildcat foreshadowed:
Arizona was seemingly playing with an on-and-off switch for much of the game, fully aware of the power it possessed. Whenever the Fighting Hawks followed their namesake and put up a fight, the Pac-12 representative unleashed its talent and size advantage to create some breathing room.
Said breathing room meant Wildcats head coach Sean Miller's shirt had a chance of remaining dry, as Zack Rosenblatt of the Arizona Daily Star pointed out:
The Wildcats' increased intensity for the remainder of the game meant the only thing in doubt down the stretch was whether they would reach 100 points. They did when Rawle Alkins scored in the lane with less than two minutes remaining.
At least North Dakota's fans stuck it out, as Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo Sports noticed:
Next up for Arizona is a Saturday showdown against No. 7 seed Saint Mary's in the round of 32. The Gaels handled VCU 85-77 on Thursday and are an impressive 29-4 on the season. What's more, three of those losses came to the same Gonzaga team that also beat Arizona.
Saint Mary's figures to provide a much stiffer test for the Wildcats than North Dakota did Thursday.
Kadeem Allen said Miller told the Wildcats, "If you want to go out like that, so be it" when North Dakota went on its run, per Rosenblatt. Allen then scored seven of his team's next 10 points.
Alkins said of the performance, per Rosenblatt: "We just wanted to play hard and show we belong here."
NCAA March Madness shared the postgame press conferences on its YouTube page.
Miller said in his conference, "We wish we felt better about our defensive effort … but I credit North Dakota on the way they played."
North Dakota head coach Brian Jones discussed the spurt that cut the deficit in his conference: "That was a big run for us, it took a lot of energy out of us … but that's what this team's been about … I feel they play the game the right way, they have no quit in them."