Through the first 17 games of Pac-12 play, Arizona Wildcats forward Keanu Pinder had only played in more than ten minutes just twice.
Now he’s done it twice in a row in the most crucial stretch for any college basketball team.
After playing 25 minutes against the Arizona State Sun Devils to finish the regular season — including starting the second half — Pinder played 15 minutes in the team’s quarterfinal victory over the Colorado Buffaloes.
“To be able to contribute to the team winning I’m excited, I’m ecstatic,” he said after Thursday’s win in Las Vegas.
“When he’s on the floor, he really makes good things happen,” stated Allonzo Trier about having Pinder on the court.
“I told him a couple days in the weight room that I’m proud of him,” Kobi Simmons said of his teammate. “He’s been not getting a lot of minutes, and that’s big time man. His confidence has risen, and he’s rising.”
“He plays really tough, really hard, and I think he sparks us,” Parker Jackson-Cartwright added. “When he makes plays like that, it really helps us.”
“He raises our team energy to another level,” Dusan Ristic tacked on. “Every time he’s on the court, he rebounds really well and blocks shots, and having a player like Keanu on our team is going to be crucial in the NCAA Tournament.
Defense and energy is the name of the game for the junior college transfer, stymying opponents at crucial times of the game.
“Definitely just trying to get blocked shots, rebound the ball, and just stop my player from scoring points,” Pinder said flatly about what he focuses on while in the game. “That’s my main goal. I have a mindset of stopping the guy. If my man catches the ball, he’s not scoring on me.”
“It helps the whole team,” said Ristic about having a player like that on the team. “He always plays with energy and having that diversity on the team helps all of us.”
“Coach just wanted to switch up things,” Pinder responded about why he’s getting more minutes. “I’ve been like this since day one, and coach just realized that I guess.”
“He’s been doing it all year,” added Jackson-Cartwright. “It happens. We have a deep team, a really talented team, and he’s never complained. He works hard each day and when his name’s called upon he answers every single time.”
“He just had to wait his time and figure out how to fit him in,” Trier continued. “A lot of roles changed when I came back to the team, so it wasn’t smooth sailing. It was a lot of piecing together pieces to the puzzle.”
Whenever Pinder has checked into a game, he’s played at least four minutes. But there were two instances — home games vs. Washington and USC — that he didn’t get in the game at all.
“It was tough at first because I went from playing around 20 minutes a game to cutting that in half to nothing some times,” Pinder said of how he felt about those two games. “I was really down, but I wanted to hold my team up and bring energy from the bench and just really help my team out.”
A lot of guys on the team made sure they sought out Pinder after those two games to keep his spirits up.
“They always said ‘keep your head up, your time will come’,” explained the forward. “The coaches told me that too.”
“Absolutely,” Jackson-Cartwright responded when asked if he felt the need to say something to Pinder after those games. “I’ve been there. At this level it’s about staying with it — you can’t get too high, you can’t get too low — and you’re gonna have good nights and a lot of bad ones.”
“I was telling him because I’ve been there before in my freshman year, and I know how hard it is as a player to always be ready but you don’t play,” Ristic explained of what he said to Pinder. “Even right now I’m just trying to help him everyday with experience.”
“He’s on the right track now. He’s helping this team win crucial games at the end of the season, and we’re all happy to have Keanu as a teammate.”