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Rawle Alkins’ return date is unclear, but Brandon Randolph continues to emerge

Randolph has scored in double figures in three of the last four games

NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Round - Salt Lake City Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Rawle Alkins continues to ramp up his activity on the court as he went through his first full-contact practice this week, but Sean Miller hasn’t shed any details on when the Arizona Wildcats’ guard will return — and he offered sort of an odd answer about Alkins’ status Tuesday.

“I don’t know. I can’t really comment on that,” Miller said after his team beat No. 7 Texas A&M. “We’ll figure that out as we go. He’s certainly progressing.”

Alkins broke his foot back in late September which was deemed to require an 8-to-12 week recovery. The sophomore is still on schedule by all indications, so his return shouldn’t be too far off even if Miller hasn’t been specific about when that will be.

“I think today is the 10th week for him, so his rehab is going well,” Miller said. “He’s focusing on school, he’s able to practice for the first time, so we kinda take it day-by-day moving forward.”

Alkins’ absence has been frustrating for him, the team, and fans to be sure, and it has cost the Wildcats (6-3) in the win column as Miller declared that there is “not a chance” the team would have lost all three games in Battle 4 Atlantis with Alkins in the fold.

But there could be a silver lining to his absence.

Arizona is starting to get more consistent contributions from newcomers like Dylan Smith and Brandon Randolph, who were non-existent early in the season.

Smith and Randolph both scored 13 points in Arizona’s win Tuesday in Phoenix. Randolph, now fully up to speed after a concussion, in particular has started to emerge.

After a slow start, the freshman has scored in double figures in three of Arizona’s last four games, shooting an efficient 16-29 (55 percent) from the field, including a 5-11 mark from 3.

Randolph has gotten to start in what would be Alkins’ spot at small forward, getting a healthy dose of minutes. Randolph has also had the opportunity to close games out and made several key free throws Tuesday to seal Arizona’s win over the Aggies.

Meanwhile, Smith has made two starts and has subbed in late in games for defensive purposes.

That is valuable experience come conference play and tournament time, and ultimately when Alkins does return, both of those guys will likely be more battle-tested than they would have been if Alkins had been healthy to start the year.

“Sometimes guys have to learn how hard you have to play,” Miller said.

“If you’re new to this — and even if you’re really talented — it takes a little bit of time to figure out what coach really means. I think the last two games, these guys have a much better understanding of what it takes to win.”

No place like home

It has been an odd start to the season for Alex Barcello.

The freshman guard has been incredible when playing in McKale Center, but has scored just three points in five games away from it.

Here are Barcello’s home and away splits:

  • Home (4 games): 21.2 minutes, 11-19 FG, 7-11 3PT, 13 assists, 0 turnovers
  • Away (5 games): 12.4 minutes, 1-14 FG, 1-11 3PT, 6 assists, 4 turnovers

Allonzo Trier has similar, though not nearly as drastic, splits.

Part of the discrepancy can be attributed to the fact Arizona has faced much stiffer competition away from McKale Center. But not all of it.

This week against UNLV and Texas A&M, Barcello had six clean looks from behind the arc, but made just one. They were the same shots he sank earlier in the season against the likes of Cal State Bakersfield and UMBC.

“The more he plays, the more confident he’ll get,” Miller said. “Watching him everyday in practice, he’s one of our team’s best shooters. He’s one of our team’s hardest workers. We believe in him, we trust him.”

Saturday’s home game against Alabama (8 p.m. MST, ESPN2) should be an interesting one for Barcello. The Crimson Tide are arguably the second- or third-best team Arizona has faced this season — and easily the best team the UA has hosted.

On one hand, Barcello has struggled when Arizona faces good teams. On the other, he has been stellar at home.

Which version will Arizona get this weekend?

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire