That Time Rawle Alkins Nearly Ripped Down T-Mobile Arena


YouTube channel Frankie Vision compiled an outstanding highlight reel of the 2017-18 college basketball season’s best dunks. Give the entire package a watch, but keep a close eye at around 3:40 in particular: The Open Man has some context on the Rawle Alkins dunk that almost brought down T-Mobile Arena.

Your Humble Author worked the Pac-12 Championship Game, and was situated almost parallel to the baseline of the west-end basket — Arizona’s basket in the second half vs. USC.

Once the entry pass went into Deandre Ayton from Parker Jackson-Cartwright on the perimeter, Jordan Usher brought the double-team from the corner. Out of the corner of my eye — watching the ball, as is instinct for any observer, and habit that coaches try to break for any player — I saw Alkins break down the paint.

Really, [obnoxious coach’s son voice] Ayton’s pass to a cutting Rawle Alkins was as impressive of a basketball play as the finish under duress.

“Well, me and Rawle … he’s always telling me look for the cut,” Ayton explained in the postgame press conference. “Once I heard him say ”Dre,’ I just dished it off to him, and it was curtains after that.”

The figurative curtain dropped on USC guard Elijah Stewart, though not through any fault of his. Twitter erupts whenever a defender gets posterized with eulogies and declarations that the dunker stole the opponent’s soul. However, it takes a lot more guts to defend a player heading to the rim than to play matador defense — and, more often than not, the defensive player on the wrong end of the dunk is stepping in for a teammate who got beat.

Such was the case here. Coaches try to break players of the natural instinct to watch the ball at a young age. One of the first drills we showed elementary-school aged attendees in my time as a basketball camp counselor was Ball-You-Man. The emphasis is to stand at a place on the court where a defender can see both the ball and his assigned man without turning his back to either.

Regardless how much this principle’s drilled, instincts can take over: even for a Division I college player, and especially when being mindful of an elite-level opponent like DeAndre Ayton. Shaqquan Aaron turned his back on Rawle Alkins to collapse on Ayton in the post, presenting an open lane for Alkins to streak to the rim. Aaron owed his teammate a wristband at the Monte Carlo buffet after that lapse.

Meanwhile, Arizona big man Dusan Ristic — who called it one of the “top 5 dunks in college basketball this year” — sealed Stewart long enough on the opposite block to prevent the USC wing from rotating before Alkins received Ayton’s pass. A fraction-of-a-second can make the difference between a demoralizing blocked shot and a highlight-making dunk. The low-post seal made that fraction-of-a-second difference.

Alkins’ dunk can be best described in a word as thunderous. Sometimes the impact of a dunk can be enhanced with crowd reaction. The Pac-12’s decision to move its tournament from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in 2013 was genius, perhaps never more evident than in this past season’s championship game.

With Arizona having just kicked off its spring break, USC a quick trek through the Mojave Desert away, and the general allure of Sin City, the arena was packed to the rafters. The capacity crowd made for a feverish buzz, and Alkins’ dunk was the catalyst thousands of Arizona fans had anticipated from the game’s opening tip. Each pump of Alkins’ arms after hammering it home elicited a wave of seemingly louder cheers.

This was, without question, one of the most electrifying dunks of the college basketball season. But was it the best dunk of Rawle Alkins’ career?

“I don’t know. I caught a couple bodies,” he laughed.