Notebook: Alkins first game, Greg Byrne returns to Tucson and star power
The Wildcat’s two best players, Deandre Ayton and Allonzo Trier, stepped up in the biggest spots of the game, Rawle Alkins provided a spark in his first action of the year and now suddenly Arizona men’s basketball is on a four game winning streak that will likely push itself back into the AP top 25 poll on Monday.
Arizona’s biggest non-conference home game of the year came down to the final seconds on the clock, just like the last two games. And in similar fashion, the Wildcats emerged from the other side with a victory, this time an 88-82 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Here were some of the biggest storylines from Saturday night’s win:
The McKale Center broke out in a thunderous roar just 2 minutes and 52 seconds into the night and for one reason: the return of sophomore guard Rawle Alkins. After missing the first nine games while recovering from a broken foot, the fan favorite trotted onto the court grinning from ear to ear and waving his arms to bring McKale to a frenzy.
Alkins didn’t quite return to his savage life ways of old, but his simple presence was enough to be an energizer bunny for the ‘Cats.
“He gives our team a confidence and a smile almost,” head coach Sean Miller said. “He has a personality.”
Alkins finished the night with 7 points on 2-6 shooting and three assists, but committed four personal fouls.
The boost Alkins provided was reminiscent of Allonzo Trier’s return last year against UCLA. Trier, who was suspended 19 games a season ago for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, understands just how relieving it can be to get back out on the court after an extended absence.
“Really happy for him to rejoin us and play basketball again,” the junior guard said. “You know, it’s tough having to sit out and not being able to play and having to watch your teammates play. But he’s worked really hard, he’s practiced really hard and we’re excited to have him back.”
Byrne’s back too
Another familiar face returned to McKale on Saturday. This time it was in the form of Arizona’s former athletic director Greg Byrne, now the AD at Alabama. It was Byrne’s first public trip back to Tucson after leaving for Tuscaloosa last January, who admits he still owns a house in the Old Pueblo.
“Regina (Byrne’s wife) has been back several times,” Byrne said. “We actually came out during the bye week during football and just kinda laid low. Tucson’s a great place and we have a lot of great friends here and wonderful memories.”
Surprisingly, Byrne had the chance to keep up with Wildcat football throughout most of the season.
“One of the nice things about being in the central time zone is I get home from games and I can watch Arizona kick-off,” Byrne said. “I bet you I watched 9 or 10 of the games, even some of our road trips where we got home in time.”
Byrne also took note of the job new Arizona AD Dave Heeke has done in his short time in Tucson and recalled the two’s long-standing relationship.
“Dave’s awesome, I’ve known him forever. He actually used to work for my dad,” Byrne said. “I think I meet Dave the first time I was a junior or senior in high school. I used to call him Mr. Heeke. Dave is a visionary, great integrity, works hard… it was a great hire by Arizona.”
There was no shortage of talent on display during the game as both teams featured top NBA prospects. Alabama PG Collin Sexton proved why he is one of the best point guards in the nation. The 6-3 freshman rattled off 30 points, including a 3-pointer to end the first half, and kept Alabama in the game down the stretch.
On the other side was Arizona’s own game-wrecker, Deandre Ayton. The 7-1 freshman notched a career high 29 points and 18 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season. For as great as Sexton was, Ayton’s performance proved to be the difference as he went on a personal 7-0 run for the ‘Cats with the game tied at 76-76 with under three minutes remaining in the game.
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