Who has been Arizona’s best player so far?
It depends who you ask, but advanced stats like box plus/minus and win shares per 40 minutes point to Bennedict Mathurin.
The freshman wing has been a lightning rod off the bench, averaging 11.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Both are the third-best marks on the team, making him the only Wildcat in the top three in both categories.
The Haitian-Canadian can shoot, drive, and finish. He’s already thrown down several acrobatic dunks and made some tough runners, showing a nice combination of power and touch.
It shows in his shooting line—a super efficient .485/.429/.864.
That leaves Mathurin as Arizona’s best 3-point shooter and free throw shooter on a percentage basis (minimum 10 shots), even though that isn’t—and wasn’t expected to be—his best skill.
But things are clicking for him in Arizona’s uptempo offense.
“It’s been great playing with the team,” he said. “We have a lot of players from different countries, so I feel like it was really amazing to have such a big chemistry in the team with only four games played.”
Mathurin, who wasn’t even a top-100 recruit, has been working diligently on his game ever since he arrived in the fall. Head coach Sean Miller said he hasn’t missed a single practice.
In the offseason, the program’s Twitter account posted a clip of Mathurin knocking down 13 corner 3s in a row. Those are practice shots, highlight truthers will say, but Mathurin is showing that kind of marksmanship can translate to the games.
“I mean, they show up every day and work at it and it’s really gratifying to see,” Miller said of UA’s freshmen. “Those guys, they trusted us, they came here, we didn’t have a summer, nobody did, and were really utilizing this fall period of time and now the month of December to keep improving.”
A 6-foot-6 with a long wingspan, solid frame and bouncy athleticism, Mathurin adds versatility to Arizona’s arsenal. He’s spent time at the 2, 3, and 4 on offense and can guard 1 through 4 on defense.
Maybe even 5s, he says.
“I’m doing everything for the team,” Mathurin said. “If I have to play 1, if I have to play 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, I’m gonna do it for the team. ... I’m gonna do everything, so I’ll play a lot of defense, grab rebounds, and do what I’m supposed to do.”
While Arizona has been a streaky shooting team, Mathurin has been a beacon of consistency. He’s made at least one 3-pointer in every game but one. In two games he hit two. He’s made 75 percent or more of his free throws in four of five games.
“Bennedict is my guy,” said point guard James Akinjo. “I think his confidence is growing as we play. Every game he gets more confident, and him running the lane the way he does and him finishing the way he does really helps me. And he could step out and make 3s. So he helps me space the floor. He helps me in all areas. I love playing with him.”
Of course, Mathurin is still a freshman and has made his fair share of freshman mistakes. Against Cal State Bakersfield, he blew a breakaway layup on a two-on-one because he wasn’t sure whether to attack the hoop or give the ball up to a streaking teammate.
The slight hesitation resulted in an awkward-looking layup attempt that clanked off the front rim.
“I was thinking about dunking the ball so hard,” Mathurin smiled. “I saw the guy coming, I just switched hands and missed a layup and I knew a sub was coming. But I feel like next time I’m gonna just throw it down.”
Mathurin was benched again for the final 10 minutes of the UTEP game because he made two critical turnovers on consecutive possessions.
The giveaways somewhat overshadowed what otherwise was a great night for him. He had 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting to go along with a team-high seven rebounds, three of the offensive variety.
“We didn’t play him a lot the second half because his turnovers were really tough turnovers,” Miller said. “They were passes to the team in orange, catch it, go the length of the floor and score. Those turnovers against zone defenses, they almost don’t allow you to win. So one of the things he has to improve on is his dribbling, his passing, decision making. As he sees different types of defenses, he’ll improve that.”
Miller isn’t the only one saying that.
“He’s still a freshman, so I think he made a couple of mistakes tonight but...in the next few games you’re gonna see him keep playing good, crashing the offensive boards,” said center and fellow French speaker Christian Koloko. “I think today (Saturday) he had a lot of offensive rebounds and he’s going to keep knocking 3s and drive to the basket, get fouled and knock (down) free throws.”
With Mathurin producing at this level at such a young age, one can only wonder what kind of player he’ll be in two or three years.
Who knows if he’ll still be with the Wildcats by then—it’s almost surprising when good players don’t leave early these days—but the Montreal native is enjoying the Arizona sunshine so far.
“Tucson is amazing,” Mathurin said. “The sunset is pretty cool, people are really genuine. When we’re walking on campus, everybody knows that we are the basketball players, so they always be doing like a ‘Bear Down’ and stuff. It’s really nice to walk around the city.”