With just seven players available and their only point guard in foul trouble, the Arizona Wildcats still managed to hold off Cal State Bakersfield 78-66 on Tuesday in their home regular-season opener at McKale Center.
UA forward Lauri Markkanen dominated the smaller Roadrunners of the Western Athletic Conference with 26 points and eight rebounds, while Rawle Alkins chipped in 15 points in part with four three-pointers.
Jaylin Airington led Cal State Bakersfield with 31 points, including 4-of-9 three-piont shooting.
The Wildcats shot 49 percent from the field and made half of their 14 three-pointers but ultimately won the game at the free throw line, taking 24 more free throws than the Roadrunners and scoring 20 more points off them. Cal State Bakersfield shot only 11 free throws, making seven.
The Wildcats were playing not only without the apparently ineligible Allonzo Trier but also senior guard Kadeem Allen, who was still recovering from a left knee sprain suffered Friday against Michigan State.
Then, when point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright went to the bench with his fourth foul and 13:11 left, the Wildcats nearly ran into trouble. Arizona had led by up to 21 points early in the second half, but Jackson-Cartwright picked up his fourth foul when he appeared to grab and then swipe the face of a Bakersfield player as he tried to cut behind him along the baseline.
The fourth foul sent Jackson-Cartwright to the bench, and Bakersfield took advantage of his absence for about three minutes by going on a 15-0 run that started with two free throws resulting from the foul.
Arizona actually finished the game with four players having been called for four fouls each, an unsettling stat for a team with virtually no depth.
The Wildcats were down to just seven to start the game because Allen’s knee sprain suffered Friday against Michigan State did not recover sufficiently in time for Tuesday’s game. Allen was hurt in the Wildcats' 65-63 win over the Spartans, but managed to make the game-winning layup and appeared to walk out of the Stan Sheriff Center with only a very slight limp.
UA issued a statement a half-hour before the game that said Allen would be reevaluated as the week goes on, so it's not clear if he'll return Friday when UA will host Sacred Heart.
Freshman Kobi Simmons started in Allen’s place, but that left the Wildcats without a single guard available off the bench and they played walk-on Paulo Cruz at off guard briefly on two occasions in the first half.
Alkins hit his fourth three-pointer in five attempts from the left corner to give UA a 51-30 lead with 16:22 left and it looked like the Wildcats would cruise the rest of the way until Jackson-Cartwright’s fourth foul. Bakersfield went on a 13-0 run that started with two resulting free throws, later cutting it to just 53-49 with 9:04 and the game stayed competitive the rest of the way.
The Wildcats had an easier time of it in the first half. They took a 44-26 halftime lead, getting 12 points and four rebounds from Lauri Markkanen against the smaller Roadrunners of the Western Athletic Conference, while Rawle Alkins had another 12 in part on three three-pointers. Dedrick Basile led Cal State Bakersfield with nine points and three assists.
The Wildcats did the Roadrunners in by getting to the free-throw line 18 times and making 13 free throws, while Bakersfield was 0 for 2 from the line. UA also shot 57 percent from the field while making 5 of 8 three-pointers.
The Wildcats fell behind 10-3 early but tied the game with 13:06 left in the first half when Alkins hit the second of three three-pointers within a three-minute span. Alkins had been just 1 for 4 from the field against Michigan State.
UA then began to pull away into double digits after Simmons hit a three-pointer to make it 30-21.