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Arizona basketball: Sean Miller has to “do a better job” of locking Keanu Pinder into an ideal role

Pinder has a skill set unlike the rest of Arizona’s frontcourt players

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at Stanford Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Every scholarship player on the Arizona Wildcats’ roster is important.

Because, well, only eight of them can play.

“They play every game,” head coach Sean Miller said. “(Players) eight, seven, and six, if they don’t start, they’re incredibly valuable.”

Miller is still trying to maximize Keanu Pinder’s value, though. The 6-foot-9 forward has seen his minutes fluctuate since the start of Pac-12 play. The junior college transfer has played as many as 18 minutes in a conference game, but also as few as five.

He is averaging 15.8 minutes per game, but only 11 per contest in Pac-12 play.

“I have to do a better job of really locking him into the role that we want him to have,” Miller said.

That role includes better utilizing Pinder’s attributes as a defender (and definitely not shooting 3s).

Arizona’s frontcourt is comprised of three 7-footers and the 6-foot-9 Pinder. And when the Wildcats are facing a smaller, more perimeter-oriented team, Pinder is the big man best-equipped to defend it.

“He is exceptional defensively,” Miller said. “He has quickness and he has a size that’s different from the rest of our frontcourt players.

“At the end of the game against Colorado, Keanu was in there because he’s so mobile. And in this game against ASU, for example, because of the lineup that they play, you can see where Keanu could be called upon to be able to defend and help us against that type of lineup.”

Statistically, Arizona’s defense is at its best when Pinder is on the floor. The Australian has a team-high defensive rating — an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions — of 84.5, nearly five points higher than Kadeem Allen‘s, who is second.

Pinder is also the team’s leader in blocks, averaging 0.9 per game.

The forward won’t make a significant dent in the scoring column — his career-high is seven points —but his value as a defender is undeniable, and Miller has to find a way to unlock it on a more consistent basis.

“Because when you start getting into games 20 through 30, you’ve been at it for a while now, and it’s not always going to be the same players every night playing well,” Miller said. “They’re going to have a night where the ball doesn’t go in or they get in foul trouble, and on that night you’re depending on your reserves, your depth, and the quality of your team.

“So everybody is important to us.”

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire