Arizona will make its 34th program appearance in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday and nobody is more eager to make a statement than Lauri Markkanen.
“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time,” Markkanen said. “I’m just really excited to play tomorrow. We just have to practice well and be ready to go.
“You can’t take any team lightly in this tournament because anyone can beat anyone. That’s what makes this event so great.”
Hauling from the FIBA league in Finland, Markkanen has never quite experienced something to the caliber of a NCAA Tournament environment.
“I haven’t been in an environment exactly like this, but I’ve experienced tournaments where it's basically do or die and you have to win games to advance,” he said.
“It’s nothing like the NCAA tournament where one loss ends your season. This is the first time I will be facing hat.”
Regarded as one of the best perimeter shooting front court players in college basketball, there’s no question that Markkanen’s three point shooting slump was a concern prior to the Pac-12 Tournament. The Finn went through a stretch of 10 games shooting just 7-35 from beyond the arc.
Nevertheless, the shooting slump allowed Markkanen to diversify other portions of his game, translating to more of a defensive threat in the post.
“I think my biggest improvement has been on the defensive end,” he said. “I’ve been focusing a lot that and when you play good defense, it translate to good offense and shooting.
“I was never worried about my shooting at any point because I knew I could play other parts of my game. It’s all about helping the team win in any way possible and if I’m not doing that by making shots, I’m playing hard in the post.”
“I knew those shots would start going in again. I’ve done everything the same way all season so there was nothing to be concerned about.
“Players aren’t going to make shots every day. It just happens and you have to work through it.”