From maybe the worst game of his college career to one of the best, Bennedict Mathurin’s trip to the Rocky Mountains was a roller coaster.
During a blowout loss at Utah, Mathurin played just 21 minutes and did not start the second half while going 1 for 6 from the field, prompting coach Sean Miller to comment on the freshman’s body language and attitude.
Two days later at Colorado, Mathurin had lost his starting spot but still ended up in the game within the first minute and went on to score a team-high 22 points on 7-of-9 shooting in the narrow loss to the Buffaloes.
That marked the third time this season Mathurin has scored at least 20 in a Pac-12 game, something only six other freshman have accomplished during the Miller era.
“I was not really focused coming into the (Utah) game,” Mathurin said Tuesday. “Not making shots is not supposed to affect the way I’m playing defense. I need to be as efficient on defense as I have on offense. I feel like my presence on the team needs to be here every game. It wasn’t really there on Thursday.”
The way Miller sees it, the Utah situation was a lingering side effect to the ankle injury Mathurin suffered 10 days earlier against ASU. Though he’d managed to play in every game since then, even starting once, there was just something still off about the 6-foot-7 wing and it was affecting not just his performance but his demeanor.
“It’s so frustrating to not be 100 percent,” Miller said. “You want to run, you want to jump, you want to be pain free.”
It didn’t help that opponents had a more in-depth scouting report on Mathurin, one that Utah used to throw him off his game.
“They know he’s no longer an unmarked freshman, but one of our team’s key players,” Miller said.
Miller and his staff had several meetings with Mathurin between the Utah and Colorado game, during which he said they reiterated his importance and how the Wildcats can’t afford to have him have an off night in any area.
“I felt like the meeting was more of, not like a lesson, but to remind me what my role was on the team,” he said. “I will make mistakes but I can’t let it affect my game. My defense needs to be consistent. I needed to be here for my teammates. I need to have a great attitude and always be there for my teammates. I just need to be present.”
Mathurin was outstanding against Colorado, making 4 of 5 3-pointers and 4 of 5 free throws. For the year he’s shooting 51.8 percent overall, 46 percent from 3 and 85.2 percent from the line.
”His response was exactly what any coach or any staff, any team would love to see in a player, going from Utah to Colorado,” Miller said. “He not only made his shots, but his disposition, his attitude, the way he practiced, all of that was just excellent. I think it really says a lot about Benn’s character, his future being really bright. We’re really happy about Benn, about how he responded. My hope is that leads into another good week for him.”
Only three other freshmen are averaging 50/40/85 in Division I, and they’re all on mid- or low-major teams. The last power conference player to put up those numbers as a freshman: Marquette’s Markus Howard, who went on become the Big East career scoring leader from 2016-20.
While Howard stuck around for four years, Mathurin’s performance—and Arizona’s history of one-and-dones—does beg the question: are there only a few more games left in his college career?
“Right now I’m just focused on finishing the season, getting the most wins possible,” he said. “I feel like it’s a good freshman year. I’ve been putting in the work a lot. I have some aspects I have to work on my game in order to reach the next level.”