Keanu Pinder caught a pass in stride from Parker Jackson-Cartwright, took two steps, and elevated toward the hoop.
An Oregon defender leapt for a chase-down block, but wound up on the wrong end of a highlight play instead.
Pinder had thrown down a vicious jam — and drew a foul in the process.
“That’s a (Sports Center) Top 10 dunk,” said UA guard Rawle Alkins, whose steal ignited the play.
Keanu Pinder just stole a man's soul! pic.twitter.com/1WgOLlXDMl— Christopher Boan (@cgboan) January 13, 2018
Pinder’s throwdown, sure to be seen all over social media, put McKale Center in a frenzy and riled up the Wildcats en route to a 90-83 win over the Oregon Ducks.
Arizona’s bench has been struggling this year, but Pinder provided a much-needed spark in what Sean Miller called Arizona’s best win of the season.
“We wouldn’t have won this game if it wasn’t for Keanu,” Alkins said.
Oregon, one of the hottest teams in the Pac-12 after a win at ASU, went small, going with skill over size against the Wildcats.
Miller, who started Pinder against Oregon last year in the Pac-12 Tournament, expected that and turned to the Australian after Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic got in foul trouble.
“They went with their skilled lineup which we thought they might,” Miller said. “So Keanu and Ira (Lee) were the answer and we went with Keanu because he’s more experienced in that situation.”
It proved to be a wise decision, as Pinder posted his best performance of the season — six points, two blocks, and a whole lot of edge defensively as the Wildcats outmuscled the Ducks in the paint and on the glass.
“This year (the Ducks) don’t have as much grit like Jordan Bell,” Pinder said. “...They have a lot of smaller guys, so it was easier for us.”
Pinder played 18 minutes, the second-most he has played all season — and that was after he didn’t play at all against Oregon State on Thursday.
“It’s not easy for an older to player to not get an opportunity on Thursday night and then do it on Saturday and rise to the challenge like he did,” Miller said.
“Four for four from the (foul) line, a couple great shot blocks, played hard, gave us quickness, we needed to matchup and he did a really good job allowing us to do that.”
Pinder has seen his playing time decrease in his senior season, receiving roughly three minutes per game fewer than he did last year. But Miller said Pinder’s best quality is that he “stays with it.”
“You’ve got to stay ready. You never know when you’re going to get an opportunity,” Pinder said. “I got the opportunity and I ran with it.”
And the Wildcats ran with him, using Pinder’s energy to complete the Oregon sweep.
“It felt really good to finally go out there and do what I do,” he said. “It’s really fun.”
Pinder’s performance aside, Arizona did not get a whole lot from its bench, which has been the norm all season.
The others — Ira Lee, Brandon Randolph, Dylan Smith, and Emmanuel Akot — combined for just two points and three turnovers.
“It’s a work in progress,” Miller said. “There’s a lot of teams like ours. Tonight when we really needed the bench, Keanu delivered. We had some turnovers and those guys had some turnovers when they came in, but they’ll get their opportunity like Keanu. He didn’t play against Oregon State and the next trip to the Bay we’re going to need everybody. Foul trouble, illness, injuries, styles of the opponent, you just can’t win with five and we have to continue to develop our group off the bench.”
Though it might be hard to find them minutes. Four of Arizona’s starters played 35 minutes or more. Not because Miller didn’t trust his bench, but because the starting five was outstanding.
Ayton had 24 points on just 11 shots. Allonzo Trier had 25 points on 14 shots, while Alkins (13) and Jackson-Cartwright (10) each scored in double figures to go along with six assists.
“We have some players that are hard to take out,” Miller said. “I have to really convince myself to take Deandre out. He has to be tired, foul trouble, or something. He brings such an element to the game. We only have him for so many games, ight as well let him play the most he can.”
One of the key plays of the game was Trier firing a pass over the Oregon defense to Ayton who slammed it home with one hand to give Arizona a one-point lead with 2:53 left in regulation.
“That is a weapon for us against a zone,” Miller said. “Throwing it over the top. Guys becoming confident in us trying to get that a handful of times a game is a smart move for us.
Miller wants to see more of it.
“There are times every game where we talk a lot about it where you have to trust them and throw it, because it’s really a high percentage play,” he said. “Most years it’s not. You’d almost call that a home-run play — it better work — and in that case, unless you just throw an outrageous pass, and at worst (Ayton will) catch it. More than likely he’s going to convert.”
In all, Miller thought Arizona was confident against Oregon’s zone — the Wildcats shot 54 percent — but it did have difficulty getting Ayton the ball at times. The big man finished with just 11 shots.
“It’s deceiving tonight because he only had one offensive rebound,” Miller said of Ayton’s shot attempts. “So it wasn’t like he helped himself a lot there. He shot 11 times and he had 11 free throws. If he gets 11 shots plus 11 free throws, that’s pretty good.
“But you can’t control it as easily as a coach, trust me. They’re playing a zone. They’re trying, they’re playing everything they can to not let (Ayton) get it, and then when he does get it (they try) to make him pass.
“Once again, one of the things I believe separates Deandre from a lot of great players is his passing. His passing leads to some of our best offensive plays.”
But in this game it was Ayton’s — and Trier’s — free throw shooting that allowed Arizona to win, despite 17 turnovers.
The Wildcats were 34-37 from the line. Ayton was 10-11. Trier was 11-11.
“That overcame the 17 turnovers. And then rebounding we did a good job against them,” Miller said. “I know they had nine second shots, but I think overall we were pleased with a lot of other things other than our turnovers.”
That Arizona shot that well from line was not totally a surprise. The Wildcats were shooting 77 percent from the stripe entering the game.
And they practice their free throw shooting. A lot.
“We try to take pride in it, especially in the offseason. Especially Allonzo,” Miller said. “Nobody works harder than him. He shoots, I think, 300 shots every gameday which would include today, a noon game. Sometimes you look at (players) and you hope they’re awake. He’s already getting 300 in before the game. He’s a product of his work.
“Deandre, I’ve never really seen anyone like him. He has this unique skillset. I don’t even know if he works on his free throws outside of working on them at practice. But I will tell you, he’s a heck of a free throw shooter. … He just has that.”
Said UO coach Dana Altman: “We’ve never seen anybody like that. ...I think he’s the best player I’ve seen in the Pac-12 in 8 years.”
Deandre Ayton playing against humans isn't fair pic.twitter.com/d7WVoRDOaG— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) January 13, 2018
Don’t blame Jackson-Cartwright for Arizona’s turnover woes. He had zero in his six-assist performance.
The senior also had 10 points and went 2-3 from 3, raising his 3-point percentage to 47 percent on the year.
“His assist to turnover ratio is above four to one now in conference play,” Miller said.
“Once again, he doesn’t get enough credit he shoots from 3. He had two bad games in a row where he didn’t shoot the ball well, but you gotta judge him on his numbers. I also thought he played hard defensively both games. Did a good job defensively against Payton Pritchard and Payton is a heck of a player as well.”
Alkins also had six assists, but five turnovers.
“I know he had a high turnover game, but I told Rawle this before he came back: no matter how much he wants to be perfect, you don’t miss 11 weeks and just come back and be who you once were or who you want to be,” Miller said.
“It is still going to take some time but the best is yet to come for Rawle. He just has to work through a few things here and he will. ... like last year, he really grew in conference play. He really hit his stride in March and I think the same will happen this year.”
One of Alkins’ turnovers was the result of a bad call. He had the ball poked away from behind by an Oregon defender, and the ref thought it deflected off Alkins before it went out of bounds.
Replay showed it did not, which led to a emotional reaction from Miller.
“That play before halftime, I almost had an out-of-body experience,” he said. “I didn’t know where I was. I thought I was having a stroke in the locker room, then I came to my senses. But I just saw the ball go off them. No official is perfect so that’s one he probably missed.”
In general, the refs called a tight game, calling 51 fouls in 40 minutes.
“It was a physical game,” Miller said. “That’s how the game is called. It’s always up to the coach or the team to adjust to the officiating. It’s never up to the officials to adjust it to the game. Some crews are going to call it closer, some aren’t. Sometimes it’s a physical game and there are no fouls, but that’s how the game is called so you live with it.”
It probably benefitted Arizona in the end, anyway.
“One thing about that, we’re a good free throw shooting team,” Miller said. “So if we get into the bonus and we get there 37 times, many times that’s going to be to our advantage.”