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In search of: Kyryl Natyazhko

Kyryl Natyazhko has only two points in the past six games.
Photo by Mark Evans, TucsonCitizen.com

Hopes were high for Arizona Wildcats sophomore center Kyryl Natyazhko. And with good reason.

He wasn’t expected to turn into an All-Pac-10 player or anything like that, but he looked like a key part of the rotation following a productive summer playing for his native Ukraine at U-20 European Championships.

He averaged 17.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks for Ukraine. These weren’t summer-league pickup games. Those numbers were supposed to translate into a solid sophomore season, right? Arizona coach Sean Miller talked in the preseason about being hopeful that Natyazhko was one of the guys who make dramatic improvement from one year to the next.

But as the Wildcats head into tonight’s big conference home game against UCLA, the player that Miller counts on for size and minutes in relief of Derrick Williams, has hit a low point. He’s nearly disappeared.

Natyazhko hasn’t scored in five of the past six games, spanning 53 minutes of playing time. He has two points and 11 total rebounds in those games. He has taken only eight shots, making one.

“Kyryl has kind of hit a valley, I don’t want to say in his development, but in this season’s play,” Miller said.

Miller added that Natyazhko made a positive impact through the non-conference part of the season and is a “better player every day,” but it hasn’t shown itself in games lately.

“Sometimes, it’s difficult in the role that he has,” Miller said.

“He is not out there for very long, and confidence can certainly start to work against you if you miss a shot or foul, and then you’re out of the game. He is going through a little bit of that.”

Tonight would be a good time for Natyazhko to step up because UCLA features 6-10, 305-pound freshman center Joshua Smith. He averages 9.8 points and 6.8 rebounds in about 20 minutes per game.

“He’s just really a terrific freshman,” Miller said.

“What a difference-maker he is in the game. He’s so big. He’s just a problem when he gets his hands on the all. They do a phenomenal job of getting him the ball in scoring position, and he just catches everything. His statistics don’t reveal the true impact he has on the game.”

Miller says he doesn’t need Natyazhko (6-11, 264) to post big statistics. The sophomore just needs to be trustworthy in the time he gets as a backup and to take advantage of whatever scoring/rebounding opportunities come his way.

Miller on Tuesday also did not rule out going to 7-footer Alex Jacobson, who hasn’t played since Dec. 5 against Oklahoma. The redshirt junior was out for a while because of recurring back problems and then has been sitting because of a series of “coach’s decisions.”

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