Arizona Wildcats’ head coach Sean Miller has only changed his starting lineup once so far this season when he started freshman Azuolas Tubelis over sophomore Christian Koloko back on Dec. 22 in their game against Montana. The change, which has now stayed consistent through four games, seemed like a no-brainer. Tubelis has added the element of shooting and scoring that Koloko has yet to show at his time in Tucson so far.
A similar situation is now emerging where freshman forward and bench player Bennedict Mathurin has been noticeably outperforming some of his teammates ahead of him in the official pecking order. Mathurin has been providing the Wildcats with enough reliable scoring and aggressiveness on rebounds to warrant another change in Arizona’s starting lineup. Miller has taken notice of Mathurin’s recent success but is content with the way things are as of now.
“For right now, I like the way our rotation is,” Miller said. “The guys that don't start the game are really important towards our success … [Mathurin], with his scoring punch, really compliments the guys that don't start. If you think about how [Terrell Brown Jr.] plays, how Christian Koloko and Ira Lee, the strengths of them. [Mathurin] gives us some scoring punch and firepower with that group and that we like how that feels right now.”
Mathurin was named the Pac-12 Men's Basketball Freshman Player of the Week after his 24-point and 11-rebound performance in the Wildcats’ double-overtime win against Washington State on Saturday, Jan. 2. He has also averaged 12.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals in the previous three games which prompted the Pac-12 to give the Canadian-native the latest weekly accolade.
“He was terrific,” Miller said of Mathurin’s game against WSU. “One of the statistics that he checked the box with was his rebounding. He had 11 rebounds after halftime in the Washington State game and we not only needed his points, which, obviously that speaks for itself, but the 11 rebounds plus the 20-plus points. It was an outstanding game. He was the best player on the court for us and I'm really happy for him that he won the Pac-12 Rookie of the Week because his level of play certainly earned it.”
The same argument can be made for Brown Jr. who has also been incredibly sharp this season. Brown Jr. is averaging 8.1 and 3.3 assists per game with his most notable stat being his seven-game streak of not committing a single turnover which came to an end last Saturday.
In a usual format where a team’s roster is typically lopsided with five “starter-level” players and complemented by a few “bench-level” role players, the starting lineup is the most important part to the success of a team. This year’s Arizona team is not like that at all and has several players who are capable of cracking the starting lineup — which is why Miller is more focused on using his depth to his advantage with a balanced and strategical rotation of minutes.
“One of our strengths at the moment is our depth,” Miller said. “We don't start Ira Lee and Christian Koloko, yet both of those young guys are very, very pivotal towards our team's overall success. [Koloko] is our best front court defender, an excellent rebounder.”
“Ira Lee does a lot of different things, plays a great effort of energy, very talented, offensive rebounder. And [Mathurin], you know, we don't start,” Miller said. “Those are three guys that don't start and have really contributed in our rebounding efforts. Obviously, the starters, Jordan Brown and [Tubelis] and Dalen Terry. I've named six guys, so we have the personnel to be able to do it. I think it really helps both our defense and our offense.”
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