If there was any silver lining in the Arizona Wildcats’ miserable week in the Bahamas, it was the emergence of Brandon Randolph.
After being held scoreless in the first two games of the trip, the freshman guard poured in a career-high 17 points on 7-11 shooting against the Purdue Boilermakers in the final game of Battle 4 Atlantis.
“I just know I got into a rhythm and I took advantage of that and I’m glad I did well,” Randolph said.
Indeed, as Randolph’s performance evidently earned him a spot in UA’s starting five, as head coach Sean Miller announced Tuesday that Randolph will start at small forward against Long Beach State on Wednesday.
Randolph supplants Dylan Smith and Emmanuel Akot who traded starts in the Bahamas but did not perform particularly well.
“We have a lot more evidence now than we did prior to leaving. I think we looked at that spot as being wide open. I think Brandon Randolph has really stepped up,” Miller said.
“And I think Dylan Smith … has maybe solidified himself a little more but eventually we’re not going to play everybody. And when that time comes, it will be more about what’s happened and what we’re trying to figure out. I think we have more answers now. We might not like the answers but the answers we have now are more straightforward than they would have been three weeks ago. That’s the beauty of playing in a tournament like the one we played in. You do learn a lot about your team. You don’t want to lose three games in three days, but you come out of that tournament with a lot more evidence than you did prior to playing.”
Randolph was hindered by a concussion at the start of the season. He missed an exhibition and UA’s season-opener before returning against UMBC on Nov. 12.
Still, Randolph was just limited to four minutes in that game and never seemed comfortable until the Purdue game, scoring just six points on 2-11 shooting in his first four games.
He said he is more confident now.
“I was a little tentative, a little nervous,” Randolph said. “I just know I haven’t played a live session but now I feel back to myself. ... After the concussion we haven’t had a real, live practice but I’m getting back into the rhythm and I think that last game allowed me to get my flow back.”
Arizona (3-3) will be looking to get its flow back Wednesday against Long Beach State (6 p.m. MST, Pac-12 Networks) after losing three straight for the first time in eight years.
Randolph said the Wildcats were angry following the trip to the Bahamas and UA’s practices have been more energetic this week as they look to get back to winning ways.
“We’re definitely eager,” he said. “We want to get back to ourselves.”
Rawle Alkins tweeted another clock emoji on Monday, hinting that his return is near but Miller said he doesn’t know when the sophomore will return to game action.
But Miller did say Alkins has been able to do non-contact drills in practice for the first time, and that Arizona will “steadily increase” his activity.
“I hope that sometime in the near future that he will be close to being cleared to play and then we’ll go from there,” Miller said.
Alkins broke his foot in late September, and he is nine weeks into an eight-to-12-week recovery timetable.
“He wouldn’t have been able to play in the Bahamas, but if we we’re in a single elimination NCAA Tournament, Pac-12 Tournament game this week, he might be able to play,” Miller said. “But we want to be really cautious and make sure we give him the best time.”
Miller said there’s “not a chance” Arizona would have lost all three games in the Bahamas if it had Alkins in the lineup.
“Eventually he’s going to return and when he does, I believe we’re returning one of the best players in our conference,” Miller said. “He is going to give us some qualities that are going to really help right away. Another offensive rebounder, another defensive rebounder, a big, strong physical player.
“For the first time in about six or seven years I had the feeling at times in games that we weren’t the stronger, bigger team. That the team we were competing against was bigger, stronger, more physical. A lot of that has to do with the age and the size and the strength of the teams we played. Basketball is physical and when you’re not that team, man you better make shots. You better take care of the ball, you better check out in the skill area of the game and we didn’t.”
Miller harped on Arizona’s lack of a defensive stopper and said he thinks Alkins “will be a good defender” when he returns and settles in.
“I think instead of developing a stopper, we just have to a develop a guy who can get a stop. There’s a big difference,” Miller said. “You have a defensive lineman that hasn’t gotten a sack in three years. It would be nice if he could get one. We don’t need him to be Lawrence Taylor, we just need him to touch the quarterback.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire