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What we learned from Arizona’s win over ASU

Bennedict Mathurin’s ankle injury isn’t believed to be serious

Photo by Simon Asher/Arizona Athletics

The Arizona Wildcats (12-3, 6-3 Pac-12) staved off the Arizona State Sun Devils 80-67 on Monday night to complete the season sweep of their in-state rival.

Our full recap can be found here, head coach Sean Miller’s postgame press conference can be read/watched here and below are some additional takeaways from the win.

With Bennedict Mathurin now out, Arizona is “running out of players”

Mathurin joined Jemarl Baker Jr. (wrist) and Daniel Batcho (knee) on Arizona’s injury list. Late in the first half, the freshman landed on Remy Martin’s foot after attempting a chasedown block and exited with a right ankle sprain. He would not return to the game.

The good news is, unlike Baker and Batcho, Mathurin is likely to return this season—and it sounds like it could happen as early as Thursday vs. Stanford.

Arizona will know more by Wednesday, but X-rays came back negative and Miller doesn’t believe the injury is significant, comparing it to an ankle injury that Jordan Brown suffered at ASU on Thursday but only limited him Monday.

Mathurin tried to give it a go in the second half but didn’t feel comfortable enough after testing out his ankle in warmups.

“It might be the first ankle injury he’s ever had so, if it’s happened to you before, the first one scares you more than anything,” Miller said. “So my hope is that over the next couple of days that we really are able to develop some confidence in him, and he’s going to be able to see that he’s going to be alright. I don’t know, grade one, grade two, where he’s at, but there’s not a lot of swelling which is good. So I think that he should be able to get his range of motion mobility back.”

Arizona’s backcourt lost a lot of offensive firepower without Baker and Mathurin, its best shooters, and the lack of depth was noticeable.

James Akinjo (20), Dalen Terry (19) and Terrell Brown (17) all played heavy minutes in the second half when Arizona had to get conservative and got outscored 49-40.

Freshman Tibet Görener made a rare appearance, playing five second-half minutes. The sharpshooter is Arizona’s last resort but will be needed against Stanford and Cal this weekend if Mathurin’s ankle doesn’t heal up in time.

“We’re running out of players if you want my honest answer,” Miller said. “We just are. We don’t have any guards. So, part of us in the second half, we did the best that we could. We tried to play the smartest that we could. Because James and Terrell both had three fouls and if we would have lost either one of those guys, we would have had players in the game that have never ever been in a game like that to finish it off. So we didn’t push the ball on misses. We tried to run the clock. And then when you have a couple turnovers, when they can get hot from 3 which we know they can, and then you go to the line a couple of times and you don’t make them, the game starts to feel funny. But for the most part, we did what we needed to in the second half. And for a large portion of the first half, we played very, very good basketball, both on offense and on defense.”

Kerr Kriisa should be ready to return on Feb. 6

Should Mathurin miss extended time, Arizona will likely get a reinforcement on Feb. 6 when freshman guard Kerr Kriisa is eligible to return from NCAA suspension.

Miller said the Estonian could be cleared to practice fully as early as Tuesday. He has been limited over the last couple of weeks after suffering a broken nose and concussion in practice.

Kriisa’s ball-handling and shooting isn’t even a luxury at this point. It’s a necessity.

“We need to get him to practice a few times so he can be the most ready he can be, but he comes to us at a very, very good time,” Miller said.

ASU’s style is a great matchup for Arizona

Arizona has struggled against teams that like to slow the game down, with two of its three losses coming against USC and UCLA, who play at the 204th and 342nd pace in the country, respectively. UA also had trouble putting away Montana and Washington State.

Well, ASU entered Monday playing at the 19th-fastest pace and it worked out in Arizona’s favor—at least until their lack of depth hampered them. The Sun Devils were taking tough, quick shots and they led to runouts for the Wildcats.

Arizona got off to a 12-0 start with eight points coming via fastbreak dunks and layups, including these two buckets:

“We knew going into the game we gotta be more aggressive because that’s how they play, they’re an aggressive team,” said Terrell Brown, who had 18 points. “Our bigs kind of helped us out a lot because they rebound the ball, they get offensive rebounds, and they got foul calls for us. So for the guards, when they’re in the penalty, we gotta attack and hopefully draw some fouls to get into one-and-ones and the double bonus.”

UA finished the night with 20 fastbreak points and 43 free throw attempts. They shot 53 percent and only took six 3-pointers. Miller didn’t think Arizona passed up good shots, instead just taking what the defense was giving them.

“We want to play fast as well, but I think that our tempo isn’t nearly that fast, and we want to make sure that we take good ones if they’re quick,” Miller said. “Sometimes we want to utilize our low post game to be balanced. That’s how you get to the free throw line.”

Arizona defended without fouling and Hurley’s complaints about the officiating didn’t help his cause

ASU head coach Bobby Hurley complained about the officiating after Thursday’s loss to Arizona, but evidently those gripes fell on deaf ears. The Sun Devils only had 11 free throws compared to Arizona’s 43. They almost doubled UA up on fouls too, being whistled for 29 to UA’s 15.

It’s almost like when you take 31 3-pointers, you’re not going to get to the free throw line a lot. (Sarcasm heavily intended.)

Give Arizona credit for defending without fouling, too. That has been a huge problem for the Wildcats and they corrected it, especially in the first half when ASU only shot two free throws. Arizona’s frontcourt combined for four fouls all game, and one of them was a technical.

“We’re improving and it makes sense that we’re improving because some of the players that we’re playing are really young, and the more they practice and the more game experience they get, I think the more consistent they are,” Miller said. “Azuolas (Tubelis) is a great example. If you judge him by the way he played at Arizona State and you judge him, same player five days later playing at home, he was so much more sure of himself. He knew what to expect, the fast frenetic pace. I think that he just needed to play a game like that so that he could be a little bit more comfortable and he was. In the first half, he was terrific.”

Turnovers and missed free throws spoiled a great first half

The final score is not indicative of how close the game was for the most of the night. Arizona led by 20+ points for the final seven minutes of the first half plus the first 10 minutes of the second half.

Then the wheels started falling off. Arizona committed 10 turnovers and missed 10 free throws in the second half, allowing the Sun Devils to make things somewhat tense down the stretch.

“That would be the one thing that I wish we could have done a little bit better,” Miller said of the giveaways. “But anytime that you play a team like them twice in five days... it’s really challenging. You’re kind of on that same scouting report for about 10 straight days.”

ASU clearly had the book on Dalen Terry, who struggled in Mathurin’s place with four second-half turnovers and 4-of-10 shooting at the free throw line. The Sun Devils intentionally fouled the freshman while down nine with 2:20 left, figuring it was their best chance to get a stop. At the time, Terry was 3 for 8 at the line, dropping him to 53.3 percent on the season.

He missed the first free throw before sinking the second, what felt like the nail in ASU’s coffin.