When the season began in November, Parker Jackson-Cartwright was a regular in the Arizona Wildcats’ starting lineup.
However, that all changed when, in the seventh game of the season, the point guard suffered a high ankle sprain that would sideline him for a month.
Jackson-Cartwright has been coming off the bench since he returned at the start of Pac-12 play, and don’t expect that to change anytime soon, even if it once was a strong possibility.
Arizona head coach Sean Miller said Monday that he does not expect to reinsert Jackson-Cartwright back into Arizona’s starting five.
“Our bench is important, this week was a great example,” Miller said at his weekly press conference. “The minutes that we were able to get from Keanu (Pinder) and Parker, Chance (Comanche) and Kobi (Simmons), those are four quality players.”
Jackson-Cartwright’s play has fluctuated this season. Before his injury, he was averaging 9.0 points and 6.0 assists per game with an assist to turnover ratio north of three to one.
But since his return on Dec. 30, Jackson-Cartwright is averaging just 2.8 points and 3.8 assists per contest, while shooting 34 percent from the field and 26 percent from 3.
He has also been held scoreless in six of Arizona’s 13 conference games, despite averaging 20 minutes per game.
Jackson-Cartwright’s minutes have decreased since the start of the season, but that’s mostly by design as the team has gotten closer to full strength with the return of Allonzo Trier.
“We’re not just a one-man show, we’re not just a heavy-starter team,” Miller said. “We’re trying to do it nine deep. It’s nice if you look at minutes played. We have a nice balance and part of February is about not wearing your team out. You want to have energy, you want to be able to go on the road and the last 10 minutes of the game, you want to be able to finish strong. Minutes played right now is big and those four guys are a vital part and Parker is one of them.”
Chance Comanche has arguably been the most valuable member of Arizona’s bench, though. Comanche has become Arizona’s go-to defensive stopper (at least among the frontcourt players), a role that the big man has learned to embrace.
“I’ve grabbed onto my defense more,” he said Monday. “I’ve been taking that role as a more serious role because with defense comes offense, so I don’t really worry about offense too much.
“And coach is a defensive type of guy, so if he sees me giving it all on defense and playing your all and your heart out, he’ll be fine with what you do on the other end of the court.”
Comanche’s importance has heightened with the ongoing struggles on Lauri Markkanen, who has not scored in double figures in the last four games and has dealt with foul trouble.
“I think I just have to take advantage of those opportunities and embrace that moment and give more, knowing that I might have to play more than usual,” Comanche said. “And if not, still give it my all.”
Comanche averaged 9.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in the sweep of the Bay Schools last week, far above his season averages of 6.2 and 3.6, respectively.
“Chance has improved at everything,” Miller said. “He scores. He shoots the highest percentage on our team. He’s improved his free throw shooting, he’s made clutch free throws. He’s very consistent.
“Defensively, he’s better. Game experience does that and Chance has played a lot of minutes. He’s played in a lot of big games for us. The old adage that freshmen are no longer freshmen when you get deep into February and they’ve had big roles, Chance being in his second year, he’s a more experienced, seasoned player right now and you can see that.”
Experience is not the only thing that has helped Comanche — a tip teammate Dusan Ristic gave him has come in handy as well.
“Earlier in the season, I would always get a travel call when I was dribbling towards our point guard for a dribble handoff and [Ristic] said, ‘you’re not really trying to make a move or attack, so just hit that dribble ahead of time before you even step just so you don’t have to worry about it,’” Comanche said.
“Since then, I haven’t had that call since, so that made a big difference.”
It has helped Comanche cut back on turnovers, which plagued him earlier in the season. He has not committed a turnover in the last eight games — another improvement the big man has made.
Eight was also the number of players Arizona was using for a few games as Keanu Pinder found himself out of the Wildcats’ rotation.
But the Australian has made his way back into it.
The 6-foot-9 forward played 10 minutes against Cal on Saturday, which was the most minutes he has played since Arizona’s win over Colorado on Jan 7.
“Our bench was terrific against Cal,” Miller said. “All the guys. Keanu gave us 10 really good minutes in the first half. We needed him to because of foul trouble and his quickness defensively. He has a knack for going after the ball.
“We talked about continuing to keep him in the rotation after we watched what it felt like when he wasn’t, and that’s something that we’re going to continue with because of how he played.”
Pinder continues to lead Arizona in total rebounding percentage, as he is tracking down 15.1 percent of misses when he is on the court.
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