Arizona guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright spent Thursday undergoing more tests and observation on his right ankle, so it isn’t exactly clear when he’ll be back.
But this much is clear: Barring a sudden return by Allonzo Trier, the Wildcats will have to skate through the rest of the nonconference season by making a number of adjustments.
UA trainer Justin Kokoskie said Thursday he won’t be able to determine an exact timetable until Jackson-Cartwright’s swelling subsides in the next few days, but history suggest he’ll miss the rest of nonconference play.
High ankle sprains typically require 4 to 8 weeks off the court, though they can keep a player out much longer depending on the severity. The last time Arizona had a high ankle sprain during a season, Salim Stoudamire missed about a month in the preseason and early season of 2002-03.
Since UA doesn’t play between its Dec. 20 home game with New Mexico and its Dec. 30 conference opener at California, the best-case scenario might be to get Jackson-Cartwright back for Pac-12 play. That’s what the Wildcats did with Kaleb Tarczewski (foot) last season.
Until then, here are five things that could define the Wildcats’ new existence:
1. Kadeem Allen is the point guard until he flops over in exhaustion.
The UA senior says he’s ready for the challenge of a ton of minutes, and his coach isn’t doubting him.
“Kadeem’s one of the great leaders that I’ve coached,” UA coach Sean Miller said. “You may not see that because he’s not an outgoing verbal type of guy. But his effort level every day and really doing everything it takes to win, that’s really what he’s done and that’s what he continues to do. He’s our only senior and he’s playing with his heart.”
Allen was, of course, the starting point guard for most of last season. But the difference now is that his only backup is freshman Kobi Simmons, a natural shooing guard who is still learning the position, and that he’s being counted on to be UA’s top perimeter defender at the same time.
For example, on Saturday, Allen will need to help tone down the three Gonzaga guys who all shoot 3-pointers at a 43 percent rate or better.
2. Lauri Markkanen is now officially a combo forward.
Forget about “center” for the 7-footer from Finland. Because UA has only three natural players among the point guard, shooting guard and small forward positions, Markkanen will have to scoot over from his natural power forward position to play at small forward.
While that certainly is no issue offensively, as evidenced by Markkanen’s 5 of 6 3-pointers Wednesday, it means Markkanen will have to defend much smaller players on occasion.
“With the teams I’ve had, very few players are ever asked to play three positions, especially in the first five games,” Miller said. “But (Allen) pretty much played the three positions every game, as did Lauri. Lauri played the five, the four and the three. Kadeem played the one, the two and the three.
“And that’s what we have to do. We have seven players.”
3. If Keanu Pinder helps at small forward, it won’t be for perimeter shooting.
Valued for his rebounding, athleticism and energy inside, the Wildcats’ junior college transfer pulled up for a pair of 3-pointers Wednesday, and hit one of them for his first long-range bucket of the season.
Miller was less than thrilled.
“It’s not a good shot for him or our team,” Miller said after the game. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him shoot a 3-point shot other than the two he took tonight. That’s not a good shot for him right now.
“Fifteen to 17 feet is good, but Keanu has a special role on our team. He’s a great defender, plays with a lot of energy, very athletic. He gives us a quickness up front that we need and he’s been invaluable so far through seven games. But shooting’s really not his forte. I was surprised as anyone when he made the one he shot.”
4. Rawle Alkins needs to stop the train sometimes.
With a razor-thin margin from having just seven scholarship players, the Wildcats can hardly afford excessive turnovers or fouls. That means Alkins, whose aggressive drives to the basket can pick up charging calls that result in both problems, must be careful.
Alkins leads UA in turnovers with 18, having committed eight over two games in Las Vegas last week, but said Wednesday he has worked to fix the problem, in part by working more on his pull-up jumper and floaters.
Against Texas Southern on Wednesday, Alkins scored 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting and had just one turnover.
“I would say my biggest adjustment from high school to college is to know when to drive, when to attack the rim,” Alkins said. “The ball has to get moving a little bit before I can go and play my game. That caused a lot of charges early on this year but I feel a lot more confident in my ability and attacking the rim now.
“I kept trying to play my old high school game in Vegas and before that, but I had a long talk with Coach (Miller) and he told me it’s causing unforced turnovers with me doing that.”
5. Sometimes, everyone will need to slow down.
Although the Wildcats have averaged 75.4 points so far this season and appear at their best in a fast-paced game, conserving energy may now occasionally be more important. Especially so the Wildcats can play defense the way Miller wants them to.
So Miller put on some brakes not long after Jackson-Cartwright was out Wednesday, resulting in UA shooting 13 fewer shots in the second half. Their 22-point victory margin might have been bigger with a faster pace, too.
“We didn’t push the ball very hard in the second half just because we were going to run out of gas,” Miller said. “We tried to slow it down. That’s not in our best interest. We’re going to be better in transition … but the pace we play at, we have to be really smart because as you get against good teams you can really get in foul trouble. (With seven players, if) one or two get in foul trouble, you have a hard time finishing the game.”