Getting swept at home by the Los Angeles schools and losing starting shooting guard Jemarl Baker Jr. for the season is causing the Arizona Wildcats to make significant lineup changes heading into Thursday’s game at Oregon State.
On his radio show Monday, head coach Sean Miller basically revealed that UA will roll with a new starting lineup of James Akinjo, Terrell Brown, Bennedict Mathurin, Azuolas Tubelis and Christian Koloko.
That means Dalen Terry and Jordan Brown are heading to the bench for the first time this season, while Terrell Brown and Mathurin will start for the first time.
Miller shared his rationale for the changes on the wing.
“I think you need balance in your roster scoring, and I think inserting Terrell Brown as the most experienced guard who doesn’t start makes sense,” he said. “And because Terrell plays the style that he does, I think inserting Benn Mathurin at the small forward spot in place of Dalen gives us a better group. It’s not that Dalen is doing anything wrong. Dalen is giving us some great, great minutes. But I think the grouping of James, Terrell and Benn will function better together, especially at the beginning of each half than maybe any other alternative.”
Miller had already said Saturday that Mathurin was in line for a bigger role, so him overtaking Terry, who’s struggled offensively, isn’t a surprise. Mathurin arguably has been Arizona’s best player of late, averaging 14 points and 5.5 rebounds per game over the last four contests with a super efficient shooting line of .515/.438/.882.
As for moving Jordan Brown—UA’s fifth-leading scorer and second-best rebounder—to the bench, Miller explained it this way.
“Starting Azuolas because of the way he’s performed and bringing Christian Koloko back in the lineup because he’s our best overall defensive player,” he said. “I think he gives us the best chance to block a shot, he’s the best on pick-and-rolls, he’s in the right place the most often. And if one of the things we’re emphasizing is to be better defensively, I think putting him in with Azuolas makes more sense.
“We’re also more foul prone with Ira (Lee) and Jordan Brown, and maybe allowing those two guys to kind of see the start of the game and get a better feel for what’s happening and then coming into the game could prevent some of the fouls that we’ve had. So these are the answers to the questions. Doesn’t mean it’s going to work, but I think that’s what we’ll do.”
Miller also said freshman sharpshooter Tibet Görener, who’s played a grand total of 15 minutes this season, could see some action as well. However, it sounds unlikely unless there’s an injury, illness or foul trouble.
“Tibet can play at the 3 or the 4, he’s just very thin right now,” Miller said. “He needs to get bigger and stronger. We communicated that with him and his family when we recruited Tibet. So, this is a year of development, working hard in practice. Practicing with us every day, traveling on every trip. He’s on the scout team a lot, preparing our team for each game, works extra after practice and before practice on his skills, and he’s getting better each week. But I really believe that there will come a day as he gets older and more experienced, he’s really going to be a good player for us. He’s a very good shooter. He’s 6-foot-8, probably about 190 pounds, and 190 has got to become 200. 200 has got to become 210.”
Arizona will also get a boost when freshman guard Kerr Kriisa is eligible on Feb. 6, but that’s almost a calendar month away. Miller said Kriisa is practicing and doing minimal work with the scout team now so he can “be ready when his time comes.”
“He can play both off the ball, the two position, and he can also play the point,” Miller said. “I love his energy, I really do. He has a way about playing where he’s skilled, he’s a good passer, he can handle the ball, he’s got great speed up and down the court. You’ll see that right away. And he can shoot the ball from the 3-point line, which for our team is a big skill. So, we’re getting him ready. I know he’s excited.
“Clearly, he’ll be at a significant disadvantage when you consider everybody that’s in the game has played, at that point, 16, 18, 20 games and he’ll be playing his one and only college game ever, right? But the fact that we can get him out there is good both for our team and for him. He’s a big part of our future. Like I said, I believe in him as a player. We’ve seen enough of him in practice that I would tell you that, a lot like Benn and Azuolas where you just know they’re going to be good and they’re able to help us now, I would say Kerr is very similar to that.”