SALT LAKE CITY, Utah - Arizona advanced to the Sweet 16th for the fifth time under Sean Miller on Saturday but Rawle Alkins’ injured finger could have easily diminished that.
“I was going for the rebound and I dislocated it,” Alkins said. “My hand was swollen and my right hand was like a left hand. I came off the court and I was just scared.
“At first I was thinking the worse. I thought it was a serious injury and then they popped it back in. I remember going back to the training room and looking at the TV and we were down 10.
“I told the trainer to do whatever it took to get me back on the court.
“They did an x-ray and luckily it was a minor fracture. I told them I would still play and I just ran back out on the court and told them I was ready to play. He put me back in.”
Alkins was ready to play.
The freshman had his way with defenders at the rim and, more importantly, exemplified strong play on the defensive end that put Arizona in a favorable position to get the victory.
Sean Miller believes the freshman’s presence is the difference between a win and loss.
“Rawle’s return had a great effect because of how well he's playing,” Miller said. “He played well again tonight. If he didn't return to the game I don't know if we would have had enough to win.
“But we believe in Rawle. Justin Kokoskie, our trainer, and Rawle both felt he could come in the game and play, and he did.”
Alkins is one of the toughest players Miller has ever coached and knows that fearless demeanor will carry the team a long way.
“It would be one tough kid to pop your finger back midway through the first half, come out on your shooting hand and play the rest of the game,” he said. “As great as he played two nights ago, that says a lot more about Rawle than what he was able to do tonight.
“Anybody that's played the game and has suffered a hand injury like that knows how difficult it is to do what he did.”