Markkanen carries shorthanded No. 5 Arizona past Washington
SEATTLE — All season there have been injuries and absences for Arizona to overcome.
By this point, being down two starters on the road is just another on the list of challenges for the Wildcats.
“We can’t change the injuries. They happen to every team,” Arizona star freshman Lauri Markkanen said. “We just have been able to fight through it and guys are stepping up.”
Markkanen had 26 points and 13 rebounds, Allonzo Trier scored 21 points and No. 5 Arizona held off a challenge from Washington for a 76-68 victory on Saturday night.
Arizona (25-3, 14-1 Pac-12) remained on top of the conference standings and won its fourth straight, doing it short-handed with starters Dusan Ristic and Kadeem Allen out because of injuries.
It wasn’t easy, as Washington put forth one of its best efforts of the season but still couldn’t snap a losing streak that’s now reached nine games, tied for the longest in school history. Chance Comanche’s rebound and dunk with 52 seconds left finally gave Arizona enough of a cushion to hold on in the final moments.
“We had to scratch and claw and fight to make plays to have a chance to win, and I know we had a couple of guys down but I thought (Washington’s) effort level was great,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said.
Miller was also proud of his own team for figuring out again how to play with missing pieces. Whether it was Ray Smith’s season-ending injury, Parker Jackson-Cartwright missing a month, or Trier missing two-thirds of the season due to suspension, the Wildcats have never been whole.
And while Allen and Ristic are both expected to return soon, it was yet another challenge to overcome against the Huskies. Ristic was out after spraining his left ankle in Thursday’s win over Washington State. Allen dislocated a finger on his shooting hand in practice earlier this week and never left the Wildcats’ bench.
“It changes the dynamic of our team and makes everybody feel a little bit funny,” Trier said. “It’s an adjustment for me. It’s an adjustment for the team and I think we’ll continue to get better.”
Markelle Fultz scored 26 points for Washington, but the Huskies (9-18, 2-13) picked the wrong time to go cold. Washington had no field goals over the final 4:41 of the game. Fultz missed two games last week with a sore knee.
“He’s done everything imaginable to help our team,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said.
Washington took its only lead of the second half at 52-51 as Fultz spun through the lane and converted a difficult layup with 14:50 remaining. Miller called timeout and Arizona immediately went to a zone defense that stymied the Huskies. Meanwhile, Trier hit his fourth 3-pointer to put Arizona in front and dunks by Markkanen and Comanche pushed the lead to 60-53 with 10:40 remaining.
David Crisp’s 3-pointer snapped a nearly five-minute drought without a field goal by Washington, but Markkanen scored four straight points to push the lead to 67-58 with 7:20 left.
The Huskies didn’t go away. Fultz rattled in a 3-pointer with 4:37 left and Arizona’s lead was down to 69-65. It was the final field goal for the Huskies as the Wildcats pulled away capped by Comanche’s dunk. He finished with 12 points.
Arizona may move up one spot in the AP Top 25 when the poll is released on Monday after No. 4 Baylor lost to No. 3 Kansas on Saturday. It would be the Wildcats’ highest ranking since December 2014.
Trier had a combined 11 points in his previous two games and made 3 of 17 shots against California and Washington State. He was 6 of 10 against the Huskies, including five 3-pointers, a new career high.
“He’s at that point where a player generally is in early December. But everybody around him and who plays against him is further along,” Miller said.
The Wildcats return home to host USC on Thursday night.
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