If Arizona still doesn’t know if or when Allonzo Trier’s suspension will end, the Wildcats may need to hang on to their eight-man rotation for a while.
And keep it from shrinking.
UA coach Sean Miller really only used about seven-and-a-half guys last weekend against Utah and Colorado, finding reserve center Chance Comanche less effective last week than during his successful New Year’s Day play, and turned to Keanu Pinder for only 10 minutes in each game.
That arguably gave the UA rotation less collective energy for the final minutes of the game, when Arizona was trying to fend off a Colorado team that cut the Wildcats’ lead from 20 to just five points in the final minutes.
“I think sometimes we run out of gas,” Miller said after UA held on to beat Colorado 82-73. “I would like to play our bench even more, but we didn’t get great play from everybody tonight.”
Comanche’s struggles against Colorado and Utah came just after he appeared to bust out with 13 points and 10 rebounds at Stanford on Jan. 1.
“I feel like my game has come along more and more as time goes on,” Comanche said after the Stanford game. “My teammates are giving me the ball when I’m open, giving me the confidence to shoot the ball more.”
Last week, Comanche had six points and three rebounds against Utah in just 13 minutes, then had three points, three rebounds and an especially costly technical foul against Colorado on Saturday.
Arizona was up 67-51 with 6:36 left when Comanche picked up a personal and technical foul against the Buffs. Colorado’s Dominique Collier hit one of two ensuing free throws, then Xavier Johnson hit a 3-pointer 10 seconds later. The Buffs also went on to get a putback layup from George King and a 3-pointer from Wesley Gordon, cutting UA’s lead to just seven points exactly two minutes after Comanche’s tech.
“That was the biggest play of the game for us,” Miller said of Comanche’s foul. “We were in total command. Instead of (it being) our ball with a commanding lead, they get four points in a row. … It’s always plays like that that can sometimes turn the tide.
“It’s learning from it, being smart, being composed, making sure we don’t put ourselves at risk in any of those situations.”
Overall, though, Miller said Comanche has impacted “our success as much as anybody.” On the season, Comanche is averaging 5.8 points, 3.9 rebounds and shooting 60 percent over an average of 17.9 minutes, significantly better numbers across the board when he played a limited role behind Kaleb Tarczewski and Dusan Ristic last season.
Miller said he still has the upside to keep growing, too.
“Chance is far from a finished product,” Miller said. “As he continues to get stronger, learn, gain experience, game experience, he’s going to be an even better player for us down the stretch. So he’s really important.”
Pinder is a somewhat different story. With good mobility, length and aggressiveness at 6-foot-8 — plus the experience of two years in junior college — he was brought in for immediate infusions of interior defense and rebounding.
At times, that’s exactly what Pinder has produced. Pinder averaged 5.7 rebounds during six December nonconference games, while helping UA hold on Dec. 17 against Texas A&M with three blocked shots. Overall in nonconference play, Pinder averaged 17.2 minutes, 4.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks.
But so far in Pac-12 play, Pinder is averaging 0.5 points and 1.5 rebounds while going 1 for 5 from the field and blocking no shots. He’s averaged 11 minutes.
While Pinder hasn’t been available for comment recently, Miller said he had to do a better job of “locking him into the role that we want him to have.” Even though he played just 10 minutes against Colorado, Pinder was on the floor for a late two-minute stretch because of his ability to throw a wrench into an opponent’s frontcourt.
“He is exceptional defensively,” Miller said. “He has quickness and a size that’s different than the rest of our frontcourt players, and at the end of (Saturday’s game) against Colorado, Keanu was in there because he’s so mobile.”
The same thing could happen Thursday, when the Wildcats will play an ASU team that uses up to four guards at a time and has several big wings who can shoot or drive to the basket equally well.
Arizona’s 7-footers might not be able to guard those kinds of guys, but maybe Pinder can.
And maybe he can give everyone else a rest by doing so.
At least that’s what Miller is hoping.
The players who are “eight, seven and six (in the UA rotation) are incredibly valuable,” Miller said. “Especially Chance, then in our starting group we need those guys to play well. We want balance. On different nights you hope different guys can step up, because when you start getting into the games 20-30 you’ve been at it for a while now and it’s not always gonna be the same player every night playing well.
“They’re gonna have a night where the ball doesn’t go in or they’re gonna be in foul trouble.
“On that night, you’re depending on your reserves, that depth and the quality of your team. Everybody’s important to us. We’ve always done it like that, but this year I feel it’s even more so.”