PULLMAN, Wash. — The moment Kadeem Allen’s bone popped out of his right pinkie during a practice Tuesday, Arizona coach Sean Miller’s mind raced to the worst possible conclusion.
“I thought he was done for the season,” Miller said.
Who could blame him?
Considering the Wildcats’ season so far, that was a perfectly reasonable assumption. By beating Washington State 78-59 on Thursday, the Wildcats were actually reverting to their old shorthanded ways, this time without Allen (dislocated pinkie) for the whole game and Dusan Ristic (ankle sprain) for the second half.
Earlier, the Wildcats lost Ray Smith and Talbott Denny to ACL tears, Parker Jackson-Cartwright for nearly a month with a high ankle sprain and, of course, there was the whole 19-game Allonzo Trier saga/suspension.
So this time, the Wildcats popped Jackson-Cartwright into Allen’s starting role after the injury required seven stitches. Jackson-Cartwright responded with a career-high 20 points, hitting 4 of 5 3-pointers and adding three assists and four steals.
UA also received 19 points and 11 rebounds from Lauri Markkanen, who worked around his outside shooting slump in precisely the manner Miller was aiming for — by having him work more around the basket and collect six offensive rebounds.
Meanwhile, sophomore center Chance Comanche popped into Ristic’s starting role for the second half, finishing with eight points and five rebounds while helping the Wildcats defensively minimize the impact of WSU big men Josh Hawkinson and Conor Clifford.
Hawkinson had seven points and eight rebounds, both below his conference averages, while Clifford didn’t have a point or rebound in 13 minutes after scoring 19 on Arizona at McKale Center last month.
The win moved Arizona to 24-3 overall and 13-1 in the Pac-12, giving Miller a second chance to take a deep breath this week. The first was the news that Allen didn’t suffer a fracture in addition to the dislocation, meaning he could return if not Saturday at Washington at least next week against the Los Angeles schools, while the second was that his Wildcats collectively overcame a number of obstacles.
“I’ve never been a part of a team — as a coach, player, assistant coach — that’s been through more than we have, and I’m pretty sure it will continue to the very end,” Miller said. “But I’ve also never been a part of a group that’s as resilient, tough-minded and a kind-of-find-a-way group that we have become.
“It became (that) a long time ago. We wouldn’t have the record we have if we didn’t have numerous players stepping up, whether it be in big moments or a guy like Parker, who when Kadeem’s out, he responds with a career high.”
Jackson-Cartwright did more than that. He basically turned into the 3-point shooter he was last season while leading the entire Pac-12 in 3-point percentage during conference games.
Jackson-Cartwright hit 4 of 5 3-pointers, including one from the left wing just before the halftime buzzer sounded. That put UA ahead 40-31 at halftime, and the Wildcats carried the momentum throughout the second half.
“The basket just seemed to be much bigger tonight,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “My teammates found me and I just wanted to make sure I was ready to shoot it.”
Jackson-Cartwright knew the pressure was coming, saying that Miller challenged him to “rise up and do more, be a leader” after Allen went down. He needed to do that right away, with Washington State hitting several shots late in the shot clock early and generally putting pressure on UA’s defense early while the Cougars took two four-point leads.
Part of UA’s challenge probably was the empty atmosphere at Beasley Coliseum, which attracted only 3,448 fans on Thursday, and part of that was the Cougars’ knack for late shots. Charles Callison even hit an improbable turnaround 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock to give WSU an early 14-10 lead.
“We try to bring our own energy,” Jackson-Cartwright said.
Another factor in the Cougars’ 60 percent shooting over the first 10 minutes of the game was the absence of Allen.
But UA wound up holding WSU to just 5 of 16 3-pointers and the Wildcats crushed the Cougars 42-28 in rebounding overall, holding WSU to just six offensive rebounds. Markkanen had six offensive rebounds all by himself, while Trier had 12 defensive rebounds to help atone for a 3-for-12 shooting effort.
But while Jackson-Cartwright had time to prepare for his new role, Comanche and the rest of the Wildcats didn’t have time to get used to playing without Ristic, who went down with a left ankle sprain after playing 12 minutes in the first half.
Ristic is also questionable for UA’s game at Washington on Saturday, but Miller was optimistic. Or hopeful, at least.
Which is more than he has been lately.
“The bad part for us and him: It’s the first time he’s done it,” Miller said of Ristic’s sprain. “It’s not that bad but it can really affect you more the first time. But I think he’ll be OK by Saturday. We need him.”