If there has been any benefit to the Arizona Wildcats being short-handed this season, it’s that it has allowed freshmen like Rawle Alkins to get a significant amount of playing time from the get-go.
Rather than coming off the bench behind Allonzo Trier, Alkins has started for Arizona from day one and is playing a hefty 29.9 minutes per game.
The New York native is certainly taking advantage of it, averaging 12.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per contest.
The most surprising part of Alkins’ early season success? His 3-point shooting. The former five-star recruit is 15 for 36 (41.7 percent) from 3 this season.
“His 3-point shooting has,” head coach Sean Miller said when asked if any part of Alkins’ game has been better than expected. “He’s really learned to take good 3s, not hunt shots. Rawle is unselfish by nature, and as he’s really learned to take good 3s, he’s put a lot of work in. This summer and fall, he is always in the gym after practice, at night, before, and he works hard at his game. He’s starting to see the benefits of that, and his free throw shot, his 3-point shooting, he can shoot the ball.”
Given Alkins’ penchant for using his 6-foot-5, 220 pound frame and athleticism to get to the rim, opposing teams were daring him to shoot from the perimeter early on.
That strategy backfired.
“If you watched him early, his M.O. is dare him to shoot, play the drive, but he’s learned to take what the defense gives him,” Miller said of Alkins. “He had a couple great 3s against Missouri where we played inside out, threw the ball to the low post, but one of his teammates didn’t position himself well. [Alkins] stepped into, knocked down a really good shot.”
Now that the Wildcats are ten games into their season, there is a large enough sample size for Miller to believe that Alkins’ hot shooting isn’t a fluke.
“That’s not the first couple games of the season anymore,” Miller said. “An open 3 from Rawle right now is a great shot for our team and he knows that. He’s done it in practice longer than he’s done it in games, but I have to see someone where it doesn’t even out. He might get off to a slow start or even too hot of a start, but usually that percentage becomes what you see everyday at practice.”
As a team, the Wildcats are shooting 39.4 percent from 3-point range. Against Missouri — which had the nation’s best 3-point defense at the time — Arizona drained 13 3-pointers in a 19-point road win.
The game before that — a win against UC Irvine — the Wildcats were 8-17 (47.1 percent) from that range.
3-point shooting, previously seen as one of Arizona’s weaknesses, has quickly become one of the Wildcats’ strengths.
Miller thinks that change is product of players settling into their roles.
“When you’re shooting wide open 3s and you have good players, our guys are able to shoot the ball. And we’ve had some stretches where we haven’t shot it as well, but I would say that’s as much of a function injuries, players moving and shifting from one position to the next, and then the depending on quite a few freshmen, guys that are seeing things for the first time and just aren’t as comfortable as maybe they will be.” Miller said.
“But every time that we play a game and get through another week here, everyone settles in... I think the shots feel more natural and hopefully [the shooting success] will continue.”
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire for more Arizona basketball coverage.