After forward Brandon Ashley was lost for the season on Feb. 1, the Arizona Wildcats figured one way to make up the difference.
“We sort of talked about it … everyone on our team is ready to play those extra minutes,” center Kaleb Tarczewski said. “It’s something we have to do to win.”
Except there is a boiling-over point to that strategy, as the Wildcats — now ranked No. 4 — found out Friday at ASU.
Arizona coach Sean Miller played all his starters for 45 minutes or more, and didn’t substitute at all during overtime. After seeing the results — a 69-66 loss in double overtime — he vowed to change that formula Monday.
“All of us as coaches and players, you take responsibility when you lose,” Miller said during his weekly news conference at McKale Center. “The last straw for me in terms of how we’re going to do things moving forward was the ASU game, because, with what we try to do and how we play, it makes no sense to play players close to 40 minutes.
“It affects everything. It affects your defense, it affects your ability to make shots at the end of games, and your practice environment. We talk about camaraderie, ‘all in’ and chemistry. It’s no fun when only five are playing.”
So the Wildcats talked it over again this past weekend and agreed on a new approach. While Miller said he would giving more playing time to reserves such as Jordin Mayes, Elliott Pitts and Matt Korcheck immediately after Ashley was lost, he now says there’s no choice but to.
He doesn’t want to see the Wildcats’ defense, rebounding and transition game melt down again due to empty tanks.
“We don’t have a crystal ball that you’re going to go to double overtime,” Miller said. “But it’s difficult to start playing players in an overtime period when they have been sitting there for 45 minutes to an hour of real time.
“I think early on in games, playing our bench is key because once you decide not to play it, you have players playing not to make mistakes — ‘I don’t want to foul.’ So all of a sudden, your effort level isn’t as high. Transition opportunities aren’t as plentiful, and one reason is guys aren’t quite as fresh as they were.”
Indeed, Tarczewski said Monday that increasing reserves’ minutes “can help us out, give us that extra boost of energy.”
Miller said the Wildcats’ biggest upside “lies in trusting” Mayes, Pitts, Korcheck and sixth man Gabe York more. In the three games since Feb. 1, Mayes and Korcheck have both averaged less than three minutes. York played just 14 at ASU, where he was 0 for 6 from the field.
“We wouldn’t have been 21-0 or anywhere near that record without him,” Miller said of York. “He’s been a real constant for us and he’s delivered so many times, and no player is perfect in the clutch.”
Pitts was 0 for 2 against ASU in just five minutes played, but did have three rebounds in both of UA’s two previous games. He also hit a three-pointer against Oregon. Mayes didn’t play against Oregon, but got in five minutes against OSU and two at ASU.
That may change, too.
“Jordin’s been in big games from a defensive perspective and also Elliott, with how he practices and how we believe in him, he can give us another shooter,” Miller said. “Gabe playing a little more allows him to be more confident, and throwing Matt Korcheck in there … as physical as he is, he can take a foul away from Kaleb.
“So all those things you’ll start to see here in place on Wednesday (at Utah) and beyond.”
No foul, no harm
Though the Pac-12 issued a statement saying officials wrongly neglected to call a technical foul call on ASU’s Jahii Carson for hanging on the rim after his dunk with a second left Friday in Tempe, Miller indicated he wasn’t concerned about it.
“We lost the game and ... really the last play or circumstances beyond the shot block, it’s irrelevant,” he said. “In my mind, when I went and shook Herb’s (Sendek, ASU’s coach) hand, the game was over. And I don’t want to win or lose on something that doesn’t have any relevance to the actual play.”
If ASU had received a technical foul, the Wildcats would still have only had time for a midcourt shot, but Miller again sidestepped the question of whether that would have changed anything.
“I think Arizona State deserves the credit for winning the game,” he said, “and it was a terrific game.”
McConnell named Cousy Award finalist
On Monday, T.J. McConnell was one of 23 finalists named for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation’s top college point guard.
“It’s obviously an honor, but I gotta give all the credit to my teammates and my coaches,” he said.
Carson was among the other Pac-12 players named to the list, along with Cal’s Justin Cobbs and UCLA’s Kyle Anderson.
- Arizona dropped from No. 2 to No. 4 in the AP Top 25 media poll Monday. UCLA, which has won six of seven, is back at No. 23.
- Miller has advanced to the “Sweet Sixteen” of the Infiniti Coaches Challenge, meaning he’s earned $10,000 for the Ronald McDonald House of Southern Arizona. Fans can vote for the next round at votecoachmiller.com.
- Jermaine Marshall
- , who scored 29 points against UA on Friday, was named the Pac-12’s Player of the Week.