No. 2 Arizona passes first test, knocks off No. 15 North Dakota

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It wasn’t easy, but No. 2 Arizona finally put No. 15 North Dakota away, advancing to the second round with a — — victory on Thursday night

It took Arizona more than midway through the first half to take a double-digit lead. North Dakota rallied in the second half, cutting a 15-point deficit in half with a 13-5 run. The Wildcats ended the upset bid 12 unanswered points.

All five starters for Arizona finished in double figures. Lauri Markkanen and Rawle Alkins with 20. Markkanen, the 43 percent 3-point shooter, took only one shot from beyond the arc, as the Wildcats used his size advantage on the smaller Fighting Hawks frontline. Quinton Hooker, in his final game of his college career, had 25 points and four assists (one turnover).

It wasn’t all that pretty, but Arizona passed its first test in its journey to return home for Sean Miller’s first Final Four. But it’s only going to be more difficult from here.

Saint Mary’s awaits in the second round on Saturday. The Gaels’ efficient offense had a few hiccups along the way, but for the most part, got the better of VCU’s Havoc defense earlier in the day. This should go down as a fascinating matchup. For starters, they both play at similar paces and are balanced on both ends of the floor. If you’re into analytics, you might find it interesting that kenpom rates the Gaels five spots ahead of the Wildcats.

Saint Mary’s and Arizona tip on Saturday evening.