Lauri Markkanen and Parker Jackson-Cartwright had their first career double-doubles in Arizona's 71-55 win over Northern Colorado on Monday night, which makes perfect sense when you consider the math.
You know: Point guard (Jackson-Cartwright) passes to remarkably efficient big man (Markkanen). Two points, one assist, often. Repeat this a few times, and before you know it, double figures start to happen.
As it was, three of Jackson-Cartwright's 10 assists were a direct result of passes to Markkanen, while the Finnish big man also tipped in a miss from PJC at the end of the first half.
Markkanen finished with 17 points to go with 13 rebounds, while Jackson-Cartwright had 15 points and 11 rebounds.
"I just try to find him," Jackson-Cartwright said.
But Jackson-Cartwright added that he really "was trying to find everybody," and indeed, in Arizona's closer-than-it-looked win over surprisingly stubborn Northern Colorado, it was more than just his connection with Markkanen.
Jackson-Cartwright had to guide his teammates through the first full-time zone defense they'd seen yet this season - and the kind they likely will again many times - while helping defend an intricately spaced Bears offense on the other end of the court.
"Tonight was Parker's best game at Arizona," UA coach Sean Miller said. "Everything he did was important. And of the 15 points, he got lot against the zone by making some good decisions. It was good to see."
Markkanen, meanwhile, had to figure out when to move and when not to in that sort of congestion inside.
All the adjustments took a while. UA (4-0) shot just 36.7 percent in the first half and actually trailed at halftime, 31-30. The game stayed within two baskets until the final four minutes; the game, that is, between the No. 8 Wildcats and the team picked No. 11 — in the Big Sky Conference.
Told the Bears were indeed picked that low, Jackson-Cartwright shook his head.
"They had a good coach. They had good players. They're going to play every team tough," he said. "Eleventh? That's a stretch."
Big Sky coaches picked Northern Colorado to finish 11th of 12 teams in their conference, while the Bears have two of its best players redshirting while sitting out a season with the school's self-imposed postseason ban. Northern Colorado is still awaiting the NCAA to conclude an investigation that could add further sanctions.
But they still have one player Miller called "special" in point guard Jordan Davis, who had 20 points and five assists despite playing most of the second half in foul trouble. Long-range gunner Chaz Glotta had 15 points on 5 of 11 3-pointers.
While Miller said the Wildcats should have been able to limit a shooter such as Glotta to just five or six looks instead of the 15 overall shots he took, Miller was hardly faulting anyone for what Davis did.
Northern Colorado coach Jeff Linder said before the game that Davis was "like a miniature Russell Westbrook," and it didn't take long for the McKale crowd to see that. While Davis had to play the second half mostly in foul trouble, he engineered an offense that was often difficult for the Wildcats to keep up with.
Northern Colorado shot 41.4 percent in the first half but made 4 of 10 threes.
"Their coach is one of the best offensive coaches I've seen," Miller said. "He reminds me of FIBA, a lot of movement and pace. They move you around and around, and get to what they want to get to. And guess what? They have a great point guard.
"Jordan Davis can play at any place in the country. He's special. He's big, physical, makes the game easier for his teammates. He's a tough guy to defend. Then on top of it they put a zone defense up. That's the first time you realty rely on your older guys. So we had a deer in the headlight look. But I liked our execution against them in the second half. "
The Wildcats managed to finish the game shooting 43.6 percent but had trouble solving the Bears' zone for much of it. They shot just 36.7 percent at halftime and didn't really get going offensively until about 12 minutes remained.
As a result, what was a 1-point game at halftime stayed close early in the second half before Arizona appeared to gain some momentum midway through. Jackson-Cartwright made a 3-point play to give UA a 40-39 lead and Markkanen hit a 10-footer on UA's next possession, bringing out a wild chorus of cheers inside McKale Center.
But the Bears still hung within two baskets, with Glotta hitting his fifth 3-pointer with 8:33 to cut UA's lead to just 48-44, before the Wildcats gradually pulled away in the final minutes.
The Wildcats (4-0) will move on to the bracketed portion of the Las Vegas Invitational, facing Santa Clara on Thursday night in Las Vegas. Northern Colorado (1-3) will face Sacred Heart earlier Thursday.
While UA again was without the apparently ineligible Allonzo Trier, Allen was back in the starting lineup after spraining his knee on Nov. 11 against Michigan State and missing UA's Nov. 15 game against Cal State Bakersfield. Allen logged five minutes on Friday against Sacred Heart.
Although speculation continues to swirl around Trier, he did not participate in pregame warmups nor dress for the game. A UA spokesman declined to comment on Trier, as the school has consistently done since Miller was first asked about Trier on Oct. 14.