The Arizona Wildcats men’s basketball team rallied to beat Saint Mary’s 69-60 in the NCAA Tournament second round and advance to the Sweet 16 against Xavier, Sean Miller’s old team.
SALT LAKE CITY — Not only will Arizona freshman guard Rawle Alkins have a small army of staffers monitoring his broken finger this week, but he also knows where to go for moral support.
Kadeem Allen dislocated his right pinkie finger on Feb. 14 in a similarly painful injury to the one Alkins suffered Saturday against Saint Mary’s, although Allen said he really didn’t have any advice to offer Alkins except to be patient.
“Just take it one day at a time,” Allen said. “Don’t try to rush it back.”
Except this is not the time of year to be patient.
That’s why Alkins rushed back into Saturday’s second-round NCAA Tournament game once doctors cleared him, and that’s why he’ll probably be out there Thursday when Arizona faces Xavier in the Sweet 16.
Whether he’ll be at full speed remains to be seen.
Nobody is tougher on Arizona’s roster than Alkins, but Allen is right there with him — and Allen struggled in his first two games back despite missing the Wildcats’ entire Washington swing from Feb. 16-18.
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Allen returned against USC nine days after his pinky bone broke through his skin while getting caught in Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s jersey in practice. He had eight points on 4-of-10 shooting against the Trojans while missing all three 3-pointers he took.
Two days later, Allen went out against UCLA for his senior night, had seven points on 2-for-6 shooting — and launched a 3-pointer off his still-painful shooting hand with eight seconds left that might have sent the game into overtime.
His shot missed badly, and UCLA won 77-72.
“Right now he’s playing on one hand and did the best he could,” UA coach Sean Miller said after the UCLA game. “Obviously he’s a warrior, but I think that’s probably as disappointing as anything, that he wasn’t able to be at full speed.”
With a full week to heal afterward, though, Allen returned to normal on March 4 at ASU, collecting 12 points, three assists and no turnovers. When Allen was made available for comment two days later, he said his stitches had been removed and he was improving day-by-day.
Just the way he said Alkins needs to take it.
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The question is whether Alkins’ days can be compressed. Alkins won’t need stitches because the skin did not break, but his fracture and dislocation will have to be delicately handled and adequately prepared for Thursday’s game.
That means, once again, that UA doctors and veteran athletic trainer Justin Kokoskie are on the spot.
“We’ll tape it correctly, give him some stability and a little medicine to minimize his inflammation,” Kokoskie said. “The body heals fast, especially somebody his age.”
The Wildcats need him to heal quickly. While starting all but one game this season, the sturdy freshman wing has created some of his biggest production when the UA needed help the most.
In UA’s Dec. 3 loss to Gonzaga, Alkins had 16 points on 7-for-15 shooting. When the Wildcats’ 19-point lead nearly melted away against Texas A&M on Dec. 17, Alkins took a skillful pass from Lauri Markkanen, charged downcourt and picked up a foul, then hit two game-clinching free throws in a 67-63 win.
In his first Pac-12 game on Dec. 30 at Cal, Alkins struggled before halftime but made several key plays in the second half while finishing with 10 points and nine rebounds in UA’s 67-62 win.
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At Oregon on Feb. 4, Alkins was virtually the only Wildcat who showed signs of life late in UA’s stunning blowout loss. He had 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting, six rebounds, four assists and four steals — albeit with five turnovers.
While Alkins did struggle in the Wildcats’ Feb. 25 loss to UCLA, he came back a week later and collected 15 points and 11 rebounds at ASU.
Two weeks later, while he didn’t have a big statistical night against Saint Mary’s, Alkins was credited by teammates and Miller alike for bringing them a boost with his return.
“It had a great effect because of how well he’s playing,” Miller said. “If he didn’t return to the game, I don’t know if we would have had enough to win.
“It would be one tough kid to pop your finger back midway through the first half, come out on your shooting hand, and play the rest of the game. Anybody who’s played the game and has suffered a hand injury like that knows how difficult it is to do what he did.”
Allen suffered that injury, and he agrees.
“He’s tough. He’s a tough guy,” Allen said of Alkins. “Most guys probably would not have come back with a jammed finger (much less) a fracture. But he came back and helped us get the win.”