The Arizona Wildcats are playing the long game with Rawle Alkins’ health.
Sitting in first place in a weak conference, Arizona figures to be OK if its star wing has to miss a game here or there during Pac-12 play.
During the NCAA Tournament, though? The Wildcats will need Alkins at his best so they can be their best.
So, until that time comes, Arizona plans to be extra cautious with the New York native anytime he feels even an iota of discomfort in his surgically repaired foot that forced him to miss the first nine games of the season.
For example: Alkins was held out of Wednesday’s game at Cal after he had soreness in his foot earlier that week.
He could have played, but why chance it?
“It’s tricky when somebody goes through the surgery that he has because you really rely on him than anything else,” head coach Sean Miller said Monday. “The x-rays are negative and we’re going to be incredibly smart with him in terms of an extra day here or there — the totality of practice.
“We’re probably still too far from the finish line to think only about games, especially him since he’s missed so much time. But listening to him, making sure that we understand what his pain is (is important) because we want him healthy for the long haul and healthy for his future as well. It’s a fine line. Anything can happen to any of our players, but the things we can control we want to do the right way.”
Alkins has played a career-high 31 minutes per game since debuting on Dec. 9. The Cal game was the first the sophomore had missed since his season debut.
And while Alkins did return for Saturday’s game at Stanford — and experienced no soreness afterward (at least as far as Miller knows) — don’t be alarmed if he is held out of another game or two during league play.
The Wildcats don’t necessarily need him right now. But they will later.
“That’s why we shut him down for the Cal game,” Miller said. “It had nothing to do with who we’re playing or anything else. It was the right thing for him and if we have to do that again every once in a while, we’ll do that.
“I know it’s not the perfect world for him and our team if we do that, but big picture it is.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire