The Arizona Wildcats are set to return some major firepower Saturday when they host the Alabama Crimson Tide, as sophomore guard Rawle Alkins will likely be making his season debut after missing the first nine games with a broken foot.
But Alabama might be adding an important player, too.
Sophomore forward Braxton Key practiced in full Friday and will be a game-time decision Saturday, head coach Avery Johnson said Friday during a teleconference.
Key had knee surgery in November and has missed the first nine games of the season like Alkins.
“Obviously he’s not in the best shape, but we were happy to see him get through the entire practice without any setbacks. We’ll see how he recovers on tomorrow,” Johnson said.
“As I alluded to at the last press conference, I said he was more of a game-time decision tomorrow, but more realistically, he needs some more work in practice and he should be ready to go without any setbacks versus Mercer when we play them in Huntsville.”
Key could greatly help an Alabama team that ranks just 151st in offensive efficiency.
The 6-foot-8 forward was Alabama’s leading scorer last season, averaging 12.0 points per game. He also grabbed 5.7 rebounds and dished out 2.5 assists per contest, shooting 43.3 percent from the field and 33 percent from the 3-point line, while getting to the free throw line a healthy amount.
Key had some big games last season, including a 24-point outing against Florida and a 21-point game against Kentucky.
Arizona, which has struggled defensively this season, will already have its hands full trying to slow down star point guard Collin Sexton, and adding Key to the mix could be what Alabama needs to leave Tucson with a win.
Sexton likely to play
Speaking of Sexton, he also practiced in full Friday and is likely to play Saturday.
The freshman phenom suffered an eye injury Wednesday against Rhode Island that forced him to miss a majority of the game, but he returned in the second half.
One of college basketball’s top freshmen, Sexton is averaging 20.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game this season.
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.
“I’m hoping that he can play,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said Thursday. “He’s one of the most exciting players in college basketball.”
Johnson’s thoughts on Arizona
Alabama head coach Avery Johnson is impressed by Arizona’s depth.
“They just have 11 guys that they can insert into the game or can be in their rotation at any point and there’s really no fall-off significantly in the talent level,” he said Friday.
Johnson said Alabama will need “all hands on deck” to slow down Arizona 7-footers Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic. Only one player in Alabama’s rotation is taller than 6-foot-9.
“They’re physical, they’re big. They take up a lot of space,” Johnson said of Arizona’s frontcourt. “Our bigs have to get to their spots. We have to have proper spacing, we have to finish inside, and we have to do a better job of playing defense.”
Saturday’s game is set to tip off at 8 p.m. MST and it will be televised on ESPN2.
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire