From out of the picture, to in the spotlight
Dylan Smith will be an important part of the team going forward
Arizona men’s basketball guard Dylan Smith was just supposed to be an occasional fill-in player this season. After sitting out the 2016-17 season due to his transfer from UNC Asheville, no one really knew what to expect from the redshirt sophomore.
Given that head coach Sean Miller was bringing in a loaded recruiting class and that the Wildcats were welcoming back experienced guards in Allonzo Trier, Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Rawle Alkins, Smith’s role seemed like an afterthought in September.
At the end of January though, his role is more clear than ever.
When sophomore guard Rawle Alkins broke his right foot back at the end of September, it opened the door for the lesser-known wing players to step up during his nine game absence. The rotation was mainly split between freshman guard Brandon Randolph and Smith until Alkins returned on December 9.
Randolph initially provided the Wildcats with the biggest boost during Alkins’ absence and had four games with 10 or more points from Nov. 24 - Dec. 9. But after scoring 13 points in 21 minutes against Alabama on the 9th, Randolph’s production declined and his minutes followed suit.
Smith, on the other hand, struggled with sporadic play during the same time frame. Seeing anywhere from 15-20 minutes per game during the non-conference slate, Smith saw his fair share of the court but couldn’t make the most of it. Over a three game stretch from Nov. 29 - Dec. 5, Smith had a total of six turnovers and then was benched against Alabama after turning the ball over within his first minute of playing time.
Arizona was in need of an extra scorer off the bench as conference play started Dec. 30 and that’s when Smith finally began to rise to the occasion. Against then-No. 3 Arizona State, Smith hit three 3-pointers en route to an 84-78 victory.
Smith’s role becomes even more vital now in the wake of a foot soreness issue Alkins has been feeling in the same right foot and has forced him to miss two of the last three games. It appears that the 6-foot-5 transfer guard is ready to take on this new challenge and was been called upon to start the two games that Alkins missed.
Against California last week, Smith tied for third on the team in points with 14 on a perfect 4-4 night from beyond the arc in 27 minutes of action. Most recently, Smith scored 13 points in a season-high 34 minutes of playing time against Colorado on Thursday.
In the two games Smith has started in place of Alkins, he is averaging four rebounds, three assists and one steal. Since conference play started, Randolph hasn’t scored more than six points in a game and only played seven minutes against Colorado.
The performance of other freshmen such as Alex Barcello and Emmanuel Akot hasn’t panned out in the way that many were hoping for, leaving Smith as the only reliable option going forward.
Sean Miller has said that the team will continue to rest Alkins on occasion the rest of the regular season, especially if his foot continues to bother him, and all signs point to Smith being the go-to guy to start in Alkins’ spot.
Arizona’s bench has been a major question this season, so forcing a normal bench player to increase production should only bode well for the Wildcats down the stretch when Alkins should return to full health.
Dylan Smith didn’t start the season with high expectations, but now he will be a key ingredient to Arizona’s success the rest of the way.
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