Rawle Alkins donned a red polo and khakis Saturday as he watched the Arizona Wildcats take on Utah from the bench, but he probably would have been in uniform if the stakes were higher.
“If this game were in March, you could make the argument that he could have played, and maybe gone through it,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said after UA won 74-73. “We’re not going to put him at any further risk and that’s how we’ll do things moving forward.”
Alkins sat out his second game in a row — and third of the last four — because of “minor” soreness in his surgically-repaired right foot that he broke in September.
Alkins was in a walking boot before tip-off and did not practice this week, but Miller reiterated that the sophomore only has soreness in his foot. Nothing more.
“It’s not as if we’re hiding anything,” Miller said. “If I knew more information, I’d be the first to tell you. He doesn’t have a fracture of any kind. We’ve given him a CT scan, an MRI, and an X-ray. His bone is healing. In some parts of it, it’s completely healed. In others, it’s good healing. But when a player has a foot like his that’s been surgically repaired and he runs into some discomfort of all a sudden, you just really have to shut him down.
“And when Rawle’s being shut down, you’ve got your fingers crossed that his pain subsides, lessens, and then eventually goes away.”
Alkins first started experiencing soreness in practice early last week, which led Arizona to rest him at Cal last Wednesday.
That was the first game Alkins had missed since debuting on Dec. 9, and he returned just a few days later when Arizona knocked off Stanford in Palo Alto.
But he has not played since.
“In two days on the Bay trip, it went from a level four or five to nothing,” Miller said of Alkins’ pain level.
“If you watched the Stanford game closely, you couldn’t even tell he was hurt. And then even after the game it was a little sore, but it wasn’t like he was in excruciating pain. But that soreness stayed with him. And because it stayed with him, we’ve called in the doctors, we’ve done all this. We rely on [trainer] Justin [Kokoskie] and we rely on Rawle.”
Alkins’ latest self-prognosis is favorable, even though he did not play against the Utes.
“Rawle tells me right now that he’s back to a zero pain, which means that if you push on that area really, really hard, he doesn’t feel anything,” Miller said.
“So as we start to amp him up now, which we will, our hope is that discomfort doesn’t come back. That it just stays away because he was pain-free for a couple months. And if that’s the case, we’re going to take a look at once in a while lessening his practice (time) and then implementing him in the game.”
Which could happen as soon as Wednesday when Arizona plays Washington State in Pullman, Miller hinted.
“(Alkins) might not play 34 minutes. He might play 20. And then we’ll see how it goes,” Miller said.
“But we’re very optimistic that he can stay with us for the long haul. But for some reason if he gets any discomfort moving forward, we’ll do the same thing. We’ve taken the precaution of putting him in a boot, taking the precaution of shutting him down completely. Today (Saturday) he worked out knowing that tomorrow is off, so we’ll gauge what he did.
“But I look at him as he’s almost four months since surgery. And that’s to his advantage. It’s up to us to be smart when he’s saying that he has some discomfort. So there’s plenty of players that have that surgery that work through these patches, and I think our goal together is to have him through the stretch run pain-free.”
The Wildcats have won six in a row and 15 of their last 16, taking sole possession of first place in the Pac-12.
Only Purdue, which has won 16 in a row, has had a better stretch in college basketball.
Arizona even won all three games Alkins has missed the last two weeks, including a sweep of the Mountain schools.
Dylan Smith had big games in two of those contests in Alkins’ stead.
“This weekend, we had a lot of players step up, but Rawle Alkins is a big part of what we do,” Miller said. “And to win this home stand and beat these two teams without him, I’m happy Rawle was able to get some rest. It builds confidence in some guys that got a bigger opportunity.”
Still, Miller said it was evident Arizona was wearing down late in those games due to its lack of depth.
Arizona had double-digit leads in both contests, only to blow them and have the game be decided in the final minutes.
The Wildcats still won both, but maybe that would have been different if the Wildcats were playing NCAA Tournament-caliber teams.
Then again, Alkins might be playing if that were true.
“We have been (close) in a lot of these games, and one thing is for sure, we have to continue to get better,” Miller said.
“Hopefully Rawle can be implemented back in and you always hope your team plays their best in February heading into March. I know a year ago I felt like we really hit our stride (then), and hopefully we can do the same thing this year.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire