Arizona Basketball

Arizona Wildcats’ freshmen Alkins, Simmons look like veterans in first true road game of college careers

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The one side of the argument: Come on, this is Missouri, it lost to North Carolina Central. What can you take from this 79-60 win by Arizona, even if it was on the road, against a bad team?

The other side: Sitting on the bench in Arizona’s first true road game of the season were four walk-ons while four scholarship players — Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Allonzo Trier, Ray Smith and Talbott Denny — were watching the game in Tucson.

If you don’t know the statuses of these guys, you have been stuck in the desert since August, but for those who don’t know: Smith retired after suffering his third ACL tear in as many years, Denny (transfer from Lipscomb) suffered a season-ending knee injury in preseason drills, Jackson-Cartwright is possibly out another seven weeks with a high ankle sprain and Trier is ineligible to play for an undisclosed reason.

More: Arizona’s top scorer and catalyst Lauri Markkanen finished with a season-low eight points before fouling out. He was mostly a non-factor, taking six shots, playing only 21 minutes.

Within the game, Arizona’s 17-point lead was whittled down to four points with 16:15 left. You could sense a collapse by the Wildcats.

With seven active and eligible scholarship players and four of them with at least four fouls, Arizona managed to pull away with a 21-0 run to take a 71-45 lead with 7:31 left in the game.

Missouri looked lost missing 13 straight shots in that span while Arizona’s freshmen Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons (each finishing with a season-high 19 points) looked like veterans.

“It was a great win for us,” Arizona coach Sean Miller told Brian Jeffries during the IMG postgame show. “You’re on the trip, so you can feel it. It’s 10 a.m. our time. Incredibly cold. The guys have been finishing final exams.

“I almost felt guilty last night thinking we bit off more than we can chew with the number of neutral-site games leading into this game.”

ARIZONA’S FIRST TRUE ROAD GAME UNDER SEAN MILLER
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Arizona responded to the challenge and Alkins is the wildcard in that execution. Over the last four games, his scoring production exhibits the obvious need to take the pressure off Markkanen’s game on the perimeter and going to the basket. Defenses are more honest on the wing, which contributes to those dreadful zones breaking down.

Alkins’ scoring in the last four games: 14 points against Texas Southern, 16 against Gonzaga, 14 against Cal-Irvine and 19 against Missouri. That’s an average of 15.8 points in the last four games. In that span, he shot 23 of 45 (51.1 percent) from the field, including 8 of 17 (47.1 percent) from 3-point range.

“He works hard at it everyday; his work ethic is phenomenal,” Miller said. “He reminds me of an older player in the program. He does not get too high, doesn’t get too low.”

Miller added about Alkins and Simmons playing in their first true road game in college: “They showed you what they’re all about.”

Arizona had 15 turnovers (after committing nine in the first half) and the Wildcats were outscored 20-8 at the free-throw line. The equalizer on offense was the Wildcats’ ball movement, especially in the second half that led to the 13-of-24 3-point shooting performance against Missouri’s changing defenses.

“They played three or four different defenses, mostly man, but they mixed in the 2-3 zone, the 1-3-1 and the 3-2 zone, which I don’t see much of, and they pressed,” Miller said. “We took some great shots. We were 13 of 24 (from 3-point range). You would think Lauri had a big game, but he had only two of them.”

Former Arizona assistant coach Scott Thompson, who helped Lute Olson assemble and coach the Wildcats to their first Final Four in 1987-88, handled the analysis on Arizona’s IMG broadcast of the game.

The former Rice, Wichita State and Cornell coach knows what it’s like for an Arizona team to operate in a flow when Steve Kerr and Sean Elliott played in rhythm with their teammates.

After the game, Thompson said on the air, “I saw Arizona doing a great job of making passes and playing with a good rhythm. They impressed me with how well they play together.”

Arizona also out-rebounded the undersized Tigers 46-28 with six players with at least six rebounds, led by nine each by Keanu Pinder and Alkins.

Miller was most critical of Arizona’s foul trouble, finishing with 22 fouls compared to Missouri’s 11. He mentioned that Marrkanen, for example, did not get in the proper defensive position with some of his fouls.

“When Missouri plays that kind of (zone) defense, I know we’re not going to get to the line a lot,” Miller said. “Out of our 22 fouls, six or eight of them could have been avoided. It was a lack of discipline on our part.

“It was a good learning experience for our young guys to avoid those kind of fouls.”

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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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