The Arizona Wildcats’ bench has been outscored in all but one of the team’s five Pac-12 conference games — and by a margin of 80-54.
Other than inconsistency on defense, Arizona’s reserves are probably its biggest weakness, but head coach Sean Miller said he’s “not really concerned” about them.
“I do know that we have to continue to develop those guys,” he said Monday. “We believe in every one of them. They’re young. ... Where they’re at in their career right now and the role they have with this year’s team, it’s about improving as the year goes on and contributing.”
The Wildcats have leaned heavily on their starters in their 4-1 start in conference play. Four of them — all but Dusan Ristic — are playing more than 32 minutes per game.
Two of them — Deandre Ayton and Allonzo Trier — are averaging 34 minutes or more.
Miller said after the Oregon game, in which four starters played more than 35 minutes, that taking his starters off the court is difficult because of how well they are playing (and presumably because of how up-and-down the bench has been).
Relatedly, Miller acknowledged Monday that Arizona could shrink its rotation to seven players moving forward. Right now it’s at about eight players, sometimes nine depending on foul trouble or matchups.
But who Miller plays is often determined on a game-by-game basis. Keanu Pinder, for instance, played 18 minutes against Oregon despite sitting the entire game Thursday vs. Oregon State.
Arizona’s bench has not been super productive, to say the least, but each member is capable of bringing something to the table.
“We have different players step up on different nights which is good,” Miller said. “I’ll go back to the Arizona State game. Dylan Smith buried three 3-point shots in the first half. That was much-needed. And Keanu his effort here against Oregon, those are two examples right there.”
Pinder’s performance was the epitome of what Miller wants from his bench — positive plays, not necessarily points even if that’s the stat commonly tracked.
The starting five can handle the scoring. The Wildcats have four starters averaging double figures, including Trier and Ayton who average an efficient 20 points per game.
But they just players around them who can do other things, like Pinder’s game vs. Oregon.
Sure, he did have six points, but his most significant contributions were on defense, tallying two blocks as he helped Arizona stymie small, but skilled, Duck lineups.
“We’ve had a lot of good contributions,” Miller said. “Brandon Randolph has had some great moments both on offense and defense. Brandon had a big shot block (against Oregon) that they ended up calling a foul.
“But it was an example of what I’m talking about — that it doesn’t show in the stat-sheet in the end. But he ran the court, used his athleticism and made a hard play on the ball. Those are the things we’re really looking for from that group.”
And if they do those things, playing time can be had. Arizona’s rotation is anything but concrete.
“Could we give one or two of those guys more of an opportunity and maybe less of an opportunity elsewhere?” Miller asked rhetorically. “That’s on the table right now. We’re trying to be the best we can be. What is that is going to allow our team to grow and be the most ready this week? That’s what we’re going to do.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire