ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Kaleb Tarczewski sprained his right ankle so badly during the second half at Michigan that he might not play Thursday against Southern.
But he kept playing on it Saturday in Arizona’s 72-70 win.
The sophomore center wasn’t about to sit for long after landing on a Michigan player’s foot during the second half.
“It was a big game,” Tarczewski said. “It was important for me to be out there.”
Not only did the big man from New Hampshire have a game to help win but also, in a sense, some image branding to take care of.
Three of the Wildcats’ top seven players are Easterners, and the other four are from California and Arizona and have shown a thick skin throughout their attention-grabbing 11-0 start.
But until Saturday, the way Tarczewski saw it, not everyone nationally realized how tough the No. 1-ranked Wildcats were.
“Coming into Big Ten country, it’s definitely something where people think of West Coast teams being soft,” Tarczewski said.
“This doesn’t prove that we’re not, but this is a step in the right direction.”
So Tarczewski, whose nickname is “Zeus,” collected 14 points and nine rebounds over 26 minutes, pain or no pain. He teamed with sophomore forward Brandon Ashley (18 points) and freshman Aaron Gordon (14) for another strong frontcourt performance as Arizona took full advantage of its size advantage over the Wolverines.
“We all affected the game in different ways,” Ashley said. “Kaleb was a big part of this one.”
While guard Nick Johnson said it was good to see Tarczewski come back for some solid minutes, he also dished praise Ashley’s way when asked about the teamwork Arizona had inside.
“It’s really to Brandon’s credit,” Johnson said. “He’s expanded his game this year and stretched out a little bit. He hit a 17-foot jumper, and that gives Kaleb a little bit more room down low.”
Ashley may have to compensate for even more if Tarczewski is out for a while.
Wildcats trainer Justin Kokos-kie said it was uncertain how long the big man might be out, depending on how the right ankle reacts in the next few days.
But, Saturday, Kokoskie just rolled some extra tape over Tarczewski’s ankle, and neither of them worried much about it.
The 7-footer’s adrenaline took care of the rest.
Even afterward, Tarczewski walked in a boot but hardly spoke of concern about the ankle. UA’s win was still foremost in his mind.
“I knew Michigan was a great program,” Tarczewski said. “Coming into a hostile environment like this (and winning) speaks to how good our team is.”