When Allonzo Trier made his return to the Arizona Wildcats’ rotation, someone’s minutes were going to be affected and the main victim thus far has been Keanu Pinder.
The junior forward is averaging 13.2 minutes per game this season, but since Trier’s return on Jan. 21, Pinder has played just 21 minutes in the last five games. And in UA’s win over Washington last Sunday, Pinder received his first DNP of the season.
However, Pinder returned to the court against the Oregon schools this past week, playing four minutes against Oregon State and five minutes against Oregon, and head coach Sean Miller wants to work Pinder back into the rotation in the near future.
“We’re going to go back to mixing him in because he gives us a quickness in a defensive player that’s much different than the other three post players,” Miller said Monday at his weekly press conference.
Arizona’s defense had its worst performance of the season against the Ducks on Saturday, allowing Oregon to shoot 65 percent from the field and 15-of-26 from 3. And one of the reasons the Ducks were able to have that much success is they exploited the size of Arizona’s frontcourt.
Using Dillon Brooks at power forward, Oregon was able to match up its star perimeter player on Lauri Markkanen, a 7-footer that is not well-equipped to defend an athletic 6-foot-7 wing.
Brooks wound up finishing with 18 points on 7-10 shooting.
It was the latest instance of opposing teams having success against the Wildcats while playing small ball. An undersized Huskies team was able to grab 18 offensive rebounds against the Wildcats the week prior.
“Allonzo being back affects everyone, not just one player and then teams are really starting to go small against us and it fueled a number of comebacks,” Miller said. “If you look at USC, their comeback happened when they went real small and it’s amazing that each team — UCLA, ‘SC, Oregon — they have the ability to play four guards with one big guy. We have to be able to adjust. That’s something that was hard for us to do without Allonzo because we didn’t have a lot of depth at the guard position.”
Since Trier’s return, Miller has occasionally put the sophomore at the 4 when opposing teams go small to spare one of Arizona’s three 7-footers from defending a guard, but Miller thinks Pinder might be a better option against those lineups.
“There are times that doesn’t make as much sense as playing Keanu because Keanu has great quickness on defense,” Miller said of the 6-foot-9 forward.
While Pinder does not make much of an impact as an offensive player — he is averaging just 2.7 points per game — Arizona’s defense is at its best when he is on the court.
According to sports-reference.com, the Wildcats are allowing 94.7 points per 100 possessions as a team, but that number improves to 89.4 when Pinder is on the floor.
Pinder also leads the team in total rebounding percentage, checking in at 15.3. His ability to help the Wildcats in those two areas is why you can expect to see an uptick in the junior college transfer’s minutes as the Wildcats look to bounce back from Saturday’s 27-point loss to Oregon.
“I think he gives us more rebounding and he gives us effort everywhere we like,” Miller said. “This week, you’ll see Keanu getting in the game earlier and being more part of the game than he has been recently.”
Arizona (21-3, 10-1 Pac-12) hosts the Stanford Cardinal (12-11, 4-7) on Wednesday before hosting the California Golden Bears on Saturday.
Tip-off for Wednesday’s game is set for 9 p.m. MST and it will be televised on FOX Sports 1.
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