Arizona beats UND 100-82 in Fighting Hawks' Big Dance debut
SALT LAKE CITY -- UND said it wouldn’t change its game against No. 2 seed Arizona.
But Arizona stayed true to its game plan, too. And that was a problem for the Hawks, who came in as the No. 15 seed in the West Region.
Arizona, starting two 7-footers and two 6-5 guards, showed why many consider the Wildcats to be a Final Four team as they displayed their size, speed, athleticism and shooting ability en route to a 100-82 win over UND before 16,341 fans at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
The loss wrapped up UND’s best season in Division I. The Hawks (22-10) won the Big Sky Conference regular-season and postseason titles, earning their first trip to the Big Dance.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our guys and our coaching staff for the season they’ve had,” said UND coach Brian Jones. “We stayed true to ourselves. We played our style regardless of who we were about to play.”
UND faced a monumental task against 31-4 Arizona, but the Hawks -- sticking with their high-energy style of play -- made things interesting by surging midway through the second half. They cut the Wildcats’ 15-point lead a few minutes earlier to 68-61 with 12 minutes to play.
That surge brought the crowd into the game game but the Wildcats quickly regained momentum, going on a 12-0 run to put the game away.
For a few minutes, however, the building turned electric and UND fed off the crowd.
“Man, that was something special,” said UND senior Quinton Hooker. “You could just feel the energy, feel the vibe.”
Hooker, one of UND’s more dynamic players in program history, led the Hawks with 25 points while Bernstine added 20 and 15 rebounds. Geno Crandall and Corey Baldwin each finished with 12.
“They’re a No. 2 seed for a reason,” added Hooker. “They played hard and when we had that run at them, they stuck together and did what great teams do. But I think it was important for us to let them know that it wasn’t going to be easy to come and play North Dakota. It was going to be a fight.”
After UND closed to within 68-61, the Wildcats -- led by freshman 7-footer Lauri Markkanen and freshman guard Rawle Alkins (both had 20 points) -- scored two possessions later. Kadeem Allen, the team’s lone senior, hit a layup and was fouled.
“(Allen) makes that three-point play and that shook us up or something,” said UND forward Drick Bernstine.
Jones said Arizona went back to what it does best to counter the Hawks’ run.
“They were able to get ball movement, get the ball inside and get some high-percentage shots,” said Jones.
UND started the game fast, jumping out to an 8-7 lead. The Hawks led 12-11 with 14:30 to go. From there, Arizona controlled the rest of the first half. Parker Jackson-Cartwright replied with a 3-pointer and the Wildcats added two more baskets from top scorer Allonzo Trier and 6-11 reserve Chance Comanche for an 18-12 lead.
Arizona continued to work the ball inside, with Markkanen -- a projected NBA Lottery pick -- scoring 10 points in the next two minutes as the Wildcats went after undersized UND in the paint.
UND, however, had some success inside, with Bernstine notching a double-double (10 points, 12 rebounds) by halftime.
Arizona led 53-37 at halftime. Markkanen had 16 points at the break. He was the only Arizona player in double figures, but seven other Wildcats were in the score column.
But the Hawks still had one more surge left, the one that cut the Wildcats’ lead to 68-61.
“I was probably just as excited as the fans,” said Jones of UND’s final charge. “It wasn’t just our fans; it was the whole building outside of their fans. It really lifted up our guys because they were just about spent. That was a big run for us but it took a lot of energy out of us.”
Arizona coach Sean Miller had praise for UND after the game.
“We really tried to let our guys know that from an offensive perspective they’re very difficult to defend,” said Miller. “They push the ball at a fast pace.”
Arizona shot 58 percent from the field while UND ended at 46 percent.
It all came down to Arizona’s size as Markkanen and Dusan Ristic -- Arizona’s other 7-footer -- combined for 32 points and 12 rebounds.
“We didn’t flinch,” said Jones. “We came out and played to our abilities.”
UND loses two starters, Hooker and Baldwin. A Big Sky title and the first NCAA Tournament experience should serve as a springboard for next season.
“We came out and gave them a fight,” said Crandall. “I don’t think a lot of people expected us to be here anyway, especially not giving them a game. But to go out there and perform like that, I can’t be anything but proud of these guys. We have nothing to hang our heads about.”