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Arizona basketball: Keanu Pinder fulfills crucial role in the Wildcats’ win over Oregon

Pinder surprisingly made his first start of the season in the Pac-12 Tournament championship game

Arizona v Oregon
Keanu Pinder being introduced as a starter
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Toward the end of the regular season, Sean Miller said the Arizona Wildcats’ starting lineup would be determined on a game-to-game basis, taking the upcoming opponents’ strengths and weaknesses into account.

He wasn’t kidding.

On Saturday, Keanu Pinder was inserted into the starting five against the Oregon Ducks with the Pac-12 Tournament championship at stake.

It was the first start of the season for the junior college transfer, who is ninth on the team in minutes per game.

As such, it led to some confused faces in the crowd at T-Mobile Arena when he was announced as a starter, but Miller liked how the 6-foot-9 forward matched up against Oregon, and specifically Dillon Brooks.

Ultimately, Pinder finished with four points and three rebounds in 12 minutes, with the biggest negative being that he picked up three fouls in the first five minutes of the game.

That was essentially part of Miller’s plan, though.

“That was our mindset,” Miller said. “Dillon Brooks is extremely aggressive in the beginning of each half … and he can really put fouls on your whole team, but especially on the player guarding him. He did that to Keanu. I don’t want to say Keanu is expendable, but in the role that he had it’s better that it happens to him than Lauri.

“And at the same time Keanu made some really productive plays while he was out there, allowed our team to rest some. … And in the tournament that’s important. Three games in three days can really wear on you.”

Pinder’s playing time has been sporadic since Allonzo Trier returned in mid-January. He did not play at all in two games, and had a lengthy stretch where he did not reach double figures in minutes played.

He then played a career-high 25 minutes against ASU in the Pac-12 regular season finale, but then played just seven minutes two games later against UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament.

For some players, that type of inconsistency could lead to frustration, but it has not been a problem for Pinder, who may or may not get a second start (it depends on the matchup, of course).

“He’s a great example of what we’ve had,” Miller said. “We have a great group of guys. He really plays to win, he’s a great teammate, knows his role. Everyone of these guys would like to play a little bit more. You play a guy 37 minutes and he’s kinda like ‘why couldn’t I play 39?’

“It’s human nature but everybody has accepted that it’s so much about the team and when you have that team success, it’s incredible how these individual honors come our way. Allonzo being named the Tournament MVP, he wouldn’t have been named the Tournament MVP if we didn’t win the tournament.”

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire