Arizona Basketball

More-mature Comanche blossoming at the right time for the Arizona Wildcats

With strong work close to the basket, Chance Comanche is shooting better than 60 percent from the field. (Photo courtesy Stan Liu, Arizona Athletics)

Nobody asked me, but …

Chance Comanche should be starting for the Arizona Wildcats.

It’s not that big of a deal. Minutes are more important. Comanche has been earning more of those, Dusan Ristic‘s sprained ankle notwithstanding. In Comanche’s first career start Saturday at Washington, the sophomore had 13 points and seven rebounds in a career-high 32 minutes while Ristic sat.

“Chance Comanche is one of our most improved players, I think one of the most improved players in our conference,” said Arizona coach Sean Miller. “When you think about where he would have been at the beginning of our season and how he is now, he plays with more confidence, he’s smarter, he’s more physical, he understands his role.”

So, how about a bigger one?

That’s not a knock on Ristic. The junior has one of the best offensive skill-set for a center in college basketball. He will be playing pro ball, somewhere, for a long time. But Comanche, through remarkable in-season improvement, has closed the gap with Ristic offensively … and he’s more athletic, springier, a better rim protector.

I’m aboard the Chance train.

Comanche could very well get another start tonight against USC, even if Ristic is available after missing most of the past two games — as Miller suggested Monday that he would be, assuming he’s had no setbacks. Comanche would be a better initial matchup against the Trojans’ athletic front line. For that matter, I like Comanche getting a lion’s share of the time vs. UCLA on Saturday, too.

And, looking way ahead to a potential rematch with Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament, that’s a “Comanche game,” too.

That would be a long way from how Comanche started the season — sitting on the bench for two exhibitions because of Miller-imposed discipline for not taking care of his academic responsibilities.

“For as much as we can talk about his improvement on the court, I think he is really growing up off the court, whether it be in the classroom or on campus, just his daily habits, how he is responsible in walking into the weight room and really trying to get something done,” Miller said.

“It’s great to see a guy grow up like him. A lot of times you see it from one season to the next. But in Chance’s case, I think some of the maturity and growing we are actually seeing (has happened) in the last three or four months during his sophomore year.”

In the past four games, Comanche is averaging 10.0 points and 5.75 rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game.

For the season, he is averaging 6.5 points and 3.8 rebounds in 18.7 minutes per game. He is shooting 60.2 percent from the field.

For the season, Ristic is averaging 11.2 points and 5.9 rebounds in 24.2 minutes per game. He is shooting 54.1 percent.

A lingering question with Comanche is how he will manage his fouls, if given a bigger role. He committed only two fouls at Washington. But for the season, he has 66 fouls in 524 minutes. Ristic has 53 in 654.

While Miller praises Comanche for how he is “handling his business” off the court after the start-of-the-season suspension, the sophomore has steeled his skills on the court with a daily diet of tough and varied matchups in practice for the past year-and-a-half. If it wasn’t Kaleb Tarczewski, it was Ryan Anderson or Mark Tollefsen or Ristic or Lauri Markkanen or Keanu Pinder.

“Competition is everything,” Miller said.

“When you choose a program or team like Arizona, you might be able to have a bigger role at another program or shoot the ball more or score more points, but that doesn’t mean you’re actually going to be a better player.”

It was right at this time last season when Comanche sometimes surpassed Ristic in the backup post rotation behind Tarczewski and Anderson. Perhaps that is happening again. Perhaps the minutes distribution at center will be largely dictated by the matchups.

Anyway, it’s good to have options.

“Chance is very talented, smart young person who has a very bright future,” Miller said. “In his case, part of him realizing his goals is to get him to be more mature and more responsible in handling his business. And he has done that.

“It makes you a more complete player. Your teammates trust you more. Your coaches trust you more. Let’s face it, to become an NBA player or to have a career afterwards, you need more than just talent. He has realized that. When you watch him play, that’s evident.”

The Sports Guys: Previewing Arizona's big week against the LA schools from on Vimeo.

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