Arizona battling numbers game as they host Sacred Heart
Arizona's three-man freshman class is stepping up big early in the season, and it will have to continue to do so.
The 10th-ranked Wildcats (2-0) figure to have only seven scholarship players available for the second consecutive game when they face Sacred Heart (1-1) on Friday night.
Arizona beat Cal State Bakersfield 78-66 Tuesday night but had to fight off a 17-0 second-half charge after fatigue set in with about 16 minutes to go.
Wildcats guard Kadeem Allen sat out because of a left knee sprain. Coach Sean Miller said there was no structural damage in Allen's knee and surgery was not required, but the team will take a cautious approach.
“I don't think he has an injury that is going to take him a long time to get back, but we're certainly not going to lose sight of the big picture and rush him,” Miller said. “Kadeem would like to play right now, but he can't.”
Freshman Kobi Simmons replaced Allen in the starting lineup Tuesday night, joining a pair of classmates, forward Lauri Markkanen and wing Rawle Alkins.
Markkanen scored 26 points on just 11 shots from the field. He converted eight, including one 3-pointer, and drained all nine attempts from the free-throw line. Miller raved about the 7-footer from Finland.
“Lauri is one of the best players in college basketball. He is. He's a monster,” Miller said. “He can put it on the floor. He's a great free-throw shooter. He's a 7-footer who is playing the small forward position. He guards perimeter players. He guards post players. He inbounds the ball against full-court pressure.
“He just really, really knows how to play. It's almost like he has the game of a 6-foot-7 forward. He just happens to be 7 foot.”
Markkanen is averaging 19.5 points and 7.0 rebounds. Simmons, who had 18 in a season-opening win over Michigan State, is averaging 15.5. Alkins is at nine points per game.
Miller said it is not a bad thing that these guys have been thrown into the deep end right way because of the short-handed roster.
“There is nothing like learning by being out on the court,” he said. “If there is a silver lining in our situation, it's the amount of minutes these guys are getting early on.”
Since the beginning of the summer, Arizona has lost freshman guard Terrance Ferguson to pro ball, graduate transfer guard Talbott Denny to a knee injury and redshirt freshman Ray Smith to a knee injury. Sophomore guard Allonzo Trier hasn't played yet because of rumored eligibility issues that the school has not commented on.
Sacred Heart, which was picked to finish eighth in the Northeast Conference's preseason coaches poll, is coming off a 90-86 win over Hofstra on Tuesday night. The Pioneers overcame a nine-point deficit in the final four minutes.
Sophomore guard Quincy McKnight, who averaged 11.4 points last season, scored a career-high 28 against Hofstra after posting a personal-best 25 in the season-opening loss at Fairfield.
“He's more an all-around player — offense, defense. He can help you in a lot of different ways,” Sacred Heart coach Anthony Latina said. “We want him to play exactly how he played last year, just be a little more efficient, and we will probably late in games call his number a little bit more.”
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