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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona’s main focus is postseason, not ASU rivalry

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Colin Darland
Colin Darland / Daily Wildcat

Sunday’s game between Arizona and ASU isn’t about rivalries. It’s not about the Territorial Cup or the school up north versus the school down south.

For Arizona, it’s the game that could land the Wildcats a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament while keeping their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

“Our goal is to play on Thursday and I know that we have to beat Arizona State to make that happen,” said UA head coach Sean Miller. “We’re just trying to focus on the task at hand.”

That task is taking care of an ASU team that sits in 10th place in the Pac-12 Conference and has played injury roulette all season long. But with little to play for besides the sheer joy of a rivalry victory, Arizona has to mind its P’s and Q’s against a Sun Devils team coming off of a four-point win against USC in Wells Fargo Arena.

“It’s a great arena and a really hostile environment,” said UA senior guard Kyle Fogg. “It’s kind of fun just going in there and having all the fans yell at you. It should be a tough game.”

Mayes improving

The days of Miller’s seven-man rotation are coming to an end.

Sophomore point guard Jordin Mayes went through his first full practice this week after missing five games due to a stress reaction in his foot and will play against ASU.

Mayes, who is averaging 5.6 points on 37.7 percent shooting and 31.9 percent from three, played just two minutes against USC last Thursday and was available for the UCLA game, although he didn’t see the floor. But after a couple days of rest, Mayes is now nearing 100 percent as the Wildcats enter the home stretch.

“This week is really a gift for him,” Miller said of Arizona only playing one game this week. “A week without a game and an opportunity for us to see him, and also I think, for him to see himself be successful and get up and down pain free.”

Mayes, who began the year as Arizona’s starting point guard before moving to the bench and playing around 20 minutes per game, most likely won’t have the same role as he did before the injury.

“Our team has changed and I don’t want to put him in a bad position,” Miller said. “I do think he’ll be more ready to contribute as opposed to just getting him in the game.”

Natyazhko’s disappointing season continues

If there’s one time Arizona could use center Kyryl Natyazhko, it’s this Sunday.

ASU plays two traditional big men in 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski and 7-foot center Ruslan Pateev, and Arizona’s 6-foot-11 big man would appear to be the perfect matchup.

But if Natyazhko, who has been a major disappointment in his junior season, playing in only an average 7.8 minutes per game in 21 of 30 contests, continues to struggle with rebounding, he’ll remain planted on the bench.

“Rebounding is by far the thing that he needs to work on the most — and I don’t know through three years how you work on that — but until he’s able to contribute there, it’s just difficult to play him in the game,” Miller said of Natyazhko, who’s averaging 1.7 rebounds per game.

Miller was counting on Natyazhko to have a big season for Arizona, evident by the fact that he started Arizona’s first six games. But he said Natyazhko coming to Arizona considerably overweight set him back big time.

“You gain that much weight, although you’re working hard, you’re working hard to get back to the same place that you should have been at three months ago,” Miller said.

Natyazhko was able to rebound from an underwhelming season down the stretch last year and he could begin that process against ASU’s big men on Saturday, but he hasn’t shown any signs to suggest he will.

“I’m sure deep down he’s frustrated by that and I would say we are as well,” Miller said. “That’s the situation we’re in. Maybe, like a year ago, he can contribute down the stretch.”

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