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Arizona basketball: Kadeem Allen “felt great” in first start since suffering knee injury

Allen is working his way back from a knee injury he suffered in the season opener

NCAA Basketball: Northern Colorado at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Kadeem Allen looked like himself on Monday night.

The Arizona Wildcats’ senior guard returned to the starting lineup for the first time since injuring his left knee in the season opener on Oct. 12, and scored 10 points and grabbed three rebounds in 35 minutes against Northern Colorado.

“It felt great,” Allen said after the 71-55 win. “We’ve been working in practice, coach has been limiting what I can do in practice and tonight he asked me how do I feel, I told him I felt good so he just went off how I felt and I was just out there playing basketball.”

And it’s a good thing Allen did, as the Wildcats might not have been able to hold off the Bears without him.

“He played his game tonight,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. “He had zero turnovers, 10 points, three rebounds, but he used a ton of energy guarding the other team’s best player and his impact on our defense is really, really big. He got back-doored maybe once or twice and even Kadeem he’s not perfect early in the year, but his effort and his ability on defense is something we really needed.

“I don’t know if we would’ve won the game if Kadeem wouldn’t have played tonight,”

Allen suited up Friday when Arizona hosted Sacred Heart, too, coming off the bench, but was shut down after playing just five minutes.

“Just to test it, more of a fear factor,” Allen said on why he tried to give it go. “I was kind of nervous and didn’t want to bump it or land on it wrong, and coach saw me out there and he pulled me and told me to rest.”

It was evident Allen wasn’t 100 percent when he air-balled a layup against Sacred Heart.

“When I went up for the layup...I was just like ‘yeah it’s not a game I should probably play, so coach just pull me,’” Allen said.

While Allen looked much-improved against Northern Colorado, Miller says the guard is still finding his groove offensively.

“I think he’s back,” Miller said after the Northern Colorado game. “He doesn’t have his total confidence back offensively yet, especially the other night he was, in fairness to Kadeem, trying to do the best he could out there, but he was clearly better tonight. We needed him, but he can certainly score easier than he’s scored so far and we need him to.”

Allen is averaging 7.0 points per game this season and averaged 8.4 points per game a year ago.

Allen will have a chance to continue getting up to speed Thursday when No. 8 Arizona (4-0) faces Santa Clara (3-2) in Las Vegas.

Tip-off is set for 8:30 p.m. MST and the game will be televised on Fox Sports 1.

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire