Rawle Alkins has now played in as many games as he missed because of a broken foot (nine), but he still doesn’t feel like his true self.
“I’m a high expectation guy and I think I can do a lot more to help the team,” he said.
While Alkins’ scoring numbers are up compared to last year, the sophomore is rebounding at a lower rate, shooting a lower percentage from 3, and is averaging nearly four turnovers a game in conference play.
“I think I can rebound a lot better, and I need to stop turning over the ball,” he said. “That’s something I’ve been doing. That’s something I know better than. The jump passes and all that stuff, but sometimes the game feels fast for me, sometimes the game feels slow. That’s just an adjustment I have to make.”
Physically, Alkins is fine. That became evident when he threw down an acrobatic reverse jam against Oregon State that landed him the No. 4 spot in SportsCenter’s Top 10.
Plus, he was cautious about not returning too soon from his foot injury.
Alkins nearly debuted in Dec. 3’s game against Texas A&M, but he still didn’t feel comfortable enough jumping off his right foot (the one that had been broken). So he waited six more days until Arizona played Alabama.
“It’s crazy what a week can do,” Alkins said. “I felt like I was comfortable with the leg.”
While the Arizona Wildcats are 8-1 since Alkins returned — they were 6-3 without him — his presence has not bolstered Arizona as much as it was thought it would.
In fact, one could argue the Wildcats haven’t improved at all.
Before Alkins’ return, Arizona ranked in the 60s in college basketball in defensive efficiency, per KenPom.
Now, Arizona is 74th (keep in mind those numbers are adjusted for opponents).
“We have not improved,” Arizona coach Sean Miller affirmed. “We have shown signs. We’ve put it together for parts. We might have gone from one game to the next where ‘wow, they looked a lot better’ but numbers don’t lie.”
And Arizona’s offense, once a top-10 unit, has fallen to 12th since Alkins’ return, even though he is averaging roughly 15 points per game.
“We have a lot of things that we can improve on,” Miller said. “On our offense, overall quicker ball movement, moving faster without the ball, playing together more seamlessly. And I think those are things that, by time, will work out. Offenses seem to smooth out as you get into early February and get through that first half of the conference season assuming that you’re healthy. If things change on that level, then a number of things can change.
“But if all things are even in terms of your health, then I think all of us feel more comfortable on offense as the season grows. On defense, not so much. It can go either way.”
Alkins presumes Arizona will play with more togetherness as the season progresses.
“We were so used to, in the beginning of the year, knowing who’s going to take the shot every possession,” Alkins said. “It was either going to be Allonzo (Trier) or Deandre (Ayton). We knew that. And now with me coming back it’s probably one of us three.
“We still have to know where guys want the ball, where they don’t want the ball. Even with me. Because I missed so much time on the court that I tend to forget this where Parker (Jackson-Cartwright) wants his shot, or this is where I like my shot. Stuff like that.”
While numbers don’t reflect it yet, Arizona’s ceiling with a healthy Alkins is far higher than it would be without him.
He is Arizona’s third-best scoring threat, he rates as the team’s best perimeter defender, and he gives the Wildcats attributes that cannot be measured like hustle, toughness, swagger, etc.
Miller said there is “no doubt” Alkins is better now than he was last year.
But Alkins yearns for more.
“It’s still a new feeling than it was in the beginning of the year because of the fact that I missed so many games,” he said.
“So we haven’t really been clicking as much as we can. I think the best is yet to come.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire