ALBUQUERQUE – Rawle Alkins lit it up in his second game back from a broken foot.
Alkins scored a career-high 26 points lead No. 23 Arizona to an 89-73 win over New Mexico on Saturday night.
The Wildcats (8-3) hit a season-best 9 of 13 3-point attempts with Alkins making all three of his attempts.
Alkins missed about 11 weeks before getting back on the court and it didn’t take to long for him to get into a rhythm as he started and hit his first shot, a baseline 3-pointer.
“It was my first start coming back from injury,” he said. “When you start you get the feel a lot quicker and you stay warm after warming up.”
His presence has a big a big impact on the Wildcats, coach Sean Miller said.
“We had our fingers crossed that he would heal and go through rehab and be able to get himself back in time,” he said. “Simply put, we’re a much better team with him because he’s one of our best players. If he doesn’t play (Saturday), the game would have had a much different outcome.”
Allonzo Trier had 20 points with five assists and freshman Deandre Ayton had his ninth double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds for Arizona.
Dane Kuiper was 6 of 8 from 3-point range to finish with a career-high 24 points for the Lobos (3-8) on his 21st birthday.
Early in the second half, the Wildcats built their lead to 52-33 before New Mexico, pulling within 76-69 after a 3 by Kuiper with 5 minutes left, but that was as close as the Lobos could get.
“I think the second half they amped up their pressure up and did a really great job of taking our inside game away,” Miller said. “They were almost playing like a trapping man to man and did a good fronting our post. In the first half we were able to get the ball inside easier.”
The Lobos’ defense in the first half, however, was significantly less than New Mexico coach Paul Weir wanted to see.
“Our defense was awful,” he said. “I don’t want to pretend it wasn’t. But you do have to give Arizona some credit. They shot the heck out of the basketball tonight. I know those guys are skilled enough to shoot 3s, but, man, they were special. They showed how good a team they are.”
BIG PICTURENew Mexico had won three of the last four meetings between the schools in Albuquerque, the last time coming in January 1999 in a game that had such a controversial ending that then Wildcats coach Lute Olson refused to return to The Pit.
The Lobos, losers of eight of nine, turned in perhaps its strongest outing of the season. Although well under-sized compared to the Wildcats, New Mexico only trailed the battle on the glass 35-23 and it had a 13-7 edge on second-chance points.
TRIER TIMETrier’s first-half performance caught Miller’s eye after the junior guard put up 11 points, hitting both of his shots from the field and all six free throws to go along with three assists and no turnovers.
“I told him that the first half that he played might have been his best overall half that he played at Arizona,” Miller said. “He played point guard and did a great job on defense. He made big plays. He was efficient. He let the game come to him.”
KEY STATNew Mexico plays a frenetic, pressing style of defense, but Arizona, which had issues with turnovers this season, had only three in the first half and 10 overall, its second lowest of the season.
“They play such an aggressive and frenetic style so that no matter who you are as a team and what you’re trying to do, you’re going to have to deal with their style of play,” Miller said. “If you told me we would come in here with 10 or fewer turnovers and have the offensive statistics that we did, I would have signed up for it.”
UP NEXTArizona starts a three-game home stand Monday against North Dakota State, with the finale of the trio coming Dec. 30 against upstate rival, No. 5 Arizona State.
New Mexico is home Tuesday against Rice. This was the opener of a four-game home stand that culminates with the Mountain West opener Dec. 27 against Air Force.