Before Brandon Ashley got hurt, when Arizona was still undefeated and the No. 1 team in the country, the Wildcats were not a deep team.
They played a seven-man rotation. Jordin Mayes saw some minutes here and there, but for the most part, it was the starters, Gabe York and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson that played for the Wildcats.
Without Ashley, that hasn’t changed much. Mayes took two DNP-CDs and has played seven minutes in the last four games. He played two minutes in Arizona’s double-overtime loss to Arizona State. Matt Korchek, Arizona’s emergency big man, has played just seven minutes since Ashley went out. Elliot Pitts has seen the biggest boost in playing time since the injury, playing 26 minutes in wins over the Oregon schools, but he played just five minutes in the Arizona State loss.
All of Arizona’s starters played at least 45 minutes on Friday. That’s not sustainable, and on Monday, Sean Miller acknowledged that.
“I think early on in games throughout the first half, playing our bench is key,” Miller said at his weekly news conference, “because once you decide not to play it you have players playing not to make mistakes –`I don’t want to foul’ — so all of a sudden your effort level isn’t as high. Transition opportunities aren’t as plentiful and one reason is guys aren’t quite as fresh as they were.”
“So for us to win the most games this year I think our biggest upside lies in trusting Jordan Mayes, Elliott Pitts, Gabe York a little bit more, throwing Matt Korcheck in there and taking some minutes away from the players that are playing.”
Miller also noted that the issue isn’t simply the volume of minutes played, it’s the kind of minutes as well. Arizona doesn’t have much of an offense, so they’re playing grind-it-out games every night.
When every possession matters in a game as physical as Arizona likes to play, it can not only be physically draining, but mentally draining as well.