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Arizona bracing for Alabama freshman phenom Collin Sexton

The Wildcats don’t have a defensive stopper this year, so they will defend Sexton by committee. Good luck.

NCAA Basketball: Lipscomb at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats are used to facing elite freshman point guards.

Last year, they faced Washington’s Markelle Fultz and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball — who went No. 1 and No. 2 overall in the 2017 NBA Draft — five times.

Arizona won four of those games and mostly kept that duo in check.

So when the Wildcats host Collin Sexton and the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday, they should be well-prepared to slow down another freshman phenom, right?

Not quite. Gone is Kadeem Allen, who was Arizona’s defensive stopper last season, and no one has filled his void as the Wildcats rank a dismal 213th in defensive efficiency.

Will anyone embrace that role Saturday and take on Sexton?

"I don't know, I haven't asked them yet,” head coach Sean Miller said Thursday. “Maybe I'll do that here today, just to figure it out, ask them and see who steps forward.”

Rawle Alkins might be the only one. The sophomore wing is expected to debut Saturday after missing the first nine games with a broken foot.

UCF had success against Sexton in its win over Alabama when it was physical with the 190-pound point guard, which is Alkins’ forte.

“He walks in the gym 6-5, 220. You’re not just going to knock him around,” Miller said. “If anything he’ll knock you around and that’s one of the reasons he was so successful as a freshman, that physically he was ready to go. He’s that much bigger and stronger right now than he was a year ago, but he’s a much smarter player.”

That said, Alkins is expected to come off the bench and Miller was unsure how many minutes he will play Saturday. So Arizona will likely try to defend Sexton by committee.

"It's a team challenge, it's not a one-on-one challenge, but you're right — somebody has to guard him and whoever that player is has to be careful he doesn't get in foul trouble,” Miller said.

The lightning-quick Sexton is a wiz at drawing fouls. The 6-foot-3 freshman averages 9.3 free throw attempts per game, the ninth-highest rate in the country.

“It’s just impossible to keep him away from the basket,” said Don Showalter, who coached Sexton with Team USA.

Miller said Sexton has a penchant for navigating around ball screens.

“He’s a really good passer, but that’s where he draws a lot of fouls,” he said. “He’s also tremendous in transition. Those two things don’t fall on the guy guarding him, it falls on the team. Everybody has to get back. On ball screen defense if your man sets that screen, you’ve gotta be responsible and stop the ball and do a great job.”

Sexton is averaging 20.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game, scoring at all three levels of the floor. The Georgia native is shooting 61.4 percent at the rim, 46.4 percent from the 3-point line, and 71 percent from the charity stripe.

He has scored as many as 40 points in a game this season — and that was when he had to maneuver through double team after double team, as Alabama played 3-on-5 for part of the second half in its loss to No. 14 Minnesota.

Because of Sexton’s wizardry, Alabama actually outscored Minnesota while outnumbered.

“Hopefully we’re not going to have that situation,” Miller joked, “but I think it speaks to his confidence and his ability.”

Miller said Sexton plays with a fire that is uncommon among young players. Sexton’s high school coach had to call technical fouls on him in practice to keep his emotion in check.

“His passion, his confidence, it permeates through the teams that he’s on,” said Miller, who recruited Sexton. “You can’t help but have confidence with a guy like him on your team because of how confident, how talented (he is) and the way he goes about things."

Sexton is projected to be a top-10 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, and hopes to lead Alabama to its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2012 before that.

Alabama is 7-2 this season, despite being without its returning leading scorer in Braxton Key (who may return Saturday) and playing a difficult non-conference schedule.

Plus, Sexton has had to miss time, too. He was held out of the team’s season-opener after Alabama investigated its program after it, like Arizona, was linked to the FBI recruiting bribery scandal in September.

But Sexton was reinstated shortly after and has been terrorizing defenses ever since — except Wednesday when he had to exit Alabama’s game vs. Rhode Island with a bloody eye.

It sidelined Sexton for much of the game, but he eventually returned and helped the Crimson Tide stave off the Rams.

It is unclear if Sexton will suit up Saturday, but Miller wants him to — even if he has no idea who will guard him.

“I’m hoping that he can play,” Miller said. “He’s one of the most exciting players in college basketball.”


Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire