They certainly could have without jeopardizing the win, but head coach Sean Miller chose to keep his three freshman phenoms in the game until the final few minutes—Josh Green was the last one to check out with 1:03 left—before closing with a lineup of Jemarl Baker Jr., Ira Lee, Christian Koloko, Dylan Smith, and Max Hazzard. Five scholarship players including a starter.
This isn’t a new thing. Arizona’s walk-ons have played a grand total of 11 minutes this season, despite the fact the Wildcats have nine wins by 10 or more points, and seven wins by 20 or more points. Matt Weyand and Kory Jones briefly appeared against NAU, Long Beach State and Nebraska-Omaha.
It might seem foolish to use key players when a game is already out of reach, and you can bet that if any of them, particularly the starters, suffered an injury, Miller would have to answer why they were even in the game in the first place—and rightfully so.
So...how does he determine when to pull them? A fan asked Miller that Monday during his weekly radio show.
“Well, time and score is obviously the No. 1 factor,” Miller said. “But for the most part, we want to get everybody in when we can. In the Arizona State game, it didn’t work out. The game got to the end, but part of it is when you talk about a guy like a Christian Koloko and so many new players, that’s an opportunity for those guys to develop. And being able to have Ira in there at the end and Christian, you’re playing against their starters, you’re playing against a Pac-12 team and players, so I think sometimes for us we look at that as developmental time to gain confidence. One of the reasons that Christian ended up having the statistics that he had (8 points, 6 rebounds) is at the end he got a few things done. So we’re trying to get our young, inexperienced players more opportunity.”
Garbage time also means an opportunity to experiment. Like deploying zone defense or sliding Max Hazzard over to point guard so he can get some seasoning at the position in case he ever needs to play there due to injuries, foul trouble, suspensions, etc.
“That’s a segment of time where he can get a few things under his belt, where it’s not like he’s never played that position in a game,” Miller said. “So we were able to accomplish a few of those things on Saturday.”