When Charles Minlend went down with a torn right labrum in June of 2017, University of San Francisco head men’s basketball coach Kyle Smith knew the offense would have to change.
Shots would have to come from somewhere, he said, and others would have to step up. A young core had to grow up quickly, and that was no more apparent than in a 20-point loss in the desert to then-No. 20 Arizona State, when 2017 WCC All-Freshman selection Jordan Ratinho, despite scoring a career-high 20 points, went 6-for-16 and 2018 All-WCC first-team point guard Frankie Ferrari scored just 10.
“They came out and smacked us,” Ferrari said.
With a rematch with the Sun Devils set for Friday at War Memorial Gym — the first of three Pac-12 tilts on this year’s schedule — Monday’s 88-54 win over Division II Sonoma State provided a chance for Minlend and the rest of the core to fine-tune a new-look offense. They started 7-for-18. Then, Ratinho went on a 3-point binge, hitting 5-of-9 from long distance.
“He’s kind of our Klay Thompson,” Smith said.
In last year’s game, the then-sophomore Ratinho — who, like Minlend, was a member of the WCC’s All-Freshman team the year prior — connected on just 6-of-16 shots, and went a dismal 3-of-11 from 3-point range in Tempe. He recovered to shatter the school single-season record for 3-point makes, besting the old record by 11 by connecting on 86.
“He’s steady,” Ferrari said of Ratinho. “I think he shot 43 percent from three last year, and I think he’ll shoot 45 this year. That’s unbelievable. He’s so steady. Coach talks about it all the time, because he doesn’t get enough credit, and he should, because he’s quiet, but his numbers just keep going up. He’s someone I can always count on.”
With his five treys on Monday, Ratinho upped his career total to 153, moving into fourth place on the school’s all-time career rolls. He remains well on pace to break the program’s all-time record of 236, set by Ali Thomas from 1997 to 2001.
“Jordan’s led us in minutes the last two years, and you tend to forget he’s so solid,” said head coach Kyle Smith. “He really, I thought, had an all-conference campaign last year, and they picked Frankie. Either one of them, last year, he’s always guarding their best player, offensively, and I don’t think the casual fan knows that he’s got the hardest defensive assignment, and he’s shot over 40 percent from three, both years.”
This season, Ratinho is averaging 4.3 makes per game from downtown, and shooting 59.1 percent from beyond the arc. Granted, that’s been against UC Davis, Maine (a team picked last in the America East Conference) and the D2 Seawolves, but those three games have given the Dons a chance to work out the kinks.
With Minlend — who went an uncharacteristic 0-for-8 from the field on Monday — now healthy, and Ferrari having his choice of offensive weapons — he had a season-high 10 assists on Monday — San Francisco is a legitimate threat.
“We’re used to what each other does, what each other likes,” Ratinho said. “It’s easier to get buckets, easier to defend. Everyone’s on the same page.”
Ferrari was 3-for-7, but will get more looks if Minlend and Ratinho continue their strong starts and continue to draw attention. Without Minlend against the Sun Devils last season, the Dons shot just 18-for-63.
“They handed it to us,” said head coach Kyle Smith. “They full-pressured us, and we were a little shook. We never really got on track. The pressure bothered us.”
After the Dons started off 7-for-18 from the field against the Division II Seawolves on Monday, Ratinho drained three of his 3-pointers in less than five minutes, shaking San Francisco out of an early funk en route to tying his career-high with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting and 5-of-9 from 3-point range.
“That just breaks it open,” Smith said. “The 3-point shooting is so valuable. It’s something we’ve emphasized in our program, as far as recruiting. I think we have a good team, but I think that’s an area where we’re going to be dependent on him — and others — but they’re going to have to make shots.”
Seven-foot junior Jimbo Lull scored 10 points in the post in the first half, but in the second half, it was 6-foot-9 senior Matt McCarthy who was able to take advantage of not only more space, but size mismatches down low.
“Lull and McCarthy are tough on the block,” Smith said. “They’re good inside. [Teams will say], ‘We’re going to have to do something about them, or it’s going to be one-on-one and they’ll get comfortable.'”
McCarthy finished with 18 points — hitting all five of his shots in the second half — and a game-high 13 rebounds for his eighth career double-double.
“Matt and Jimbo are going to be a factor inside,” Smith said. “They were doubling us, and we didn’t handle that great, but when people double, you’re going to get some looks, and you’ve got to be able to knock those down.”
Minlend was doubled and even tripled constantly throughout the night on Monday, but the career 42-percent shooter won’t likely go 0-for-8 again. He did draw enough defenders to him, though, to open things up for Ratinho.
“I think that’s part of the progression of getting good,” Smith said. “I wasn’t worried about it. I thought Charles’s floor game was good. I thought he took good shots. I really didn’t notice until I saw the box score that he went 0-for-8. I think he’s really going to be fine. I think he’ll put it behind him.”
After a tip-in of a Minlend miss, McCarthy took a bounce pass from Taavi Jurkatami for a thunderous two-handed jam with 7:28 left to balloon the lead to 75-45, the largest margin of the night up to that point. Shortly thereafter, all of the starters exited, and the reserves were able to maintain the margin.
“We got off to a 3-0 start, and now, we’ve got a Pac-12 team on our home floor,” Smith said. “I just hope we play with the same purpose. I think we played purposeful in all three games.”
Last year, Arizona State used superb guard play to hurt the Dons, including a 5-for-8 night from Remy Martin, but didn’t shoot particularly well, going 23-of-50 from the field. Still, the Sun Devils were able to get five players scoring in double digits.
“Some of the faces are the same, and they’re very athletic and long in the front court,” Smith said. “I know [De’Quon] Lake is a backup. Romelo White, he was a problem for us last year, and they’ve got Mickey Mitchell. Everyone’s talking about their guards last year, but Romelo White was a monster early. I saw the freshman from Canada that they signed in the summer (Luguentz Dort) during some AAU stuff, and he had 28 against Fullerton. He’s good.”
If Lull and McCarthy can play like they did on Monday against the 6-foot-8 White, the 6-foot-10 Lake and the 6-foot-7 Mitchell, San Francisco has a chance to make some noise, especially if Ratinho, Ferrari and Minlend can space the floor.
“I think it just makes us harder to guard,” Ferrari said. “You have to guard three guards who can shoot, and you have some bigs who can do their thing, it’s hard to block up on a certain someone. Each night, it kind of changes, so it gives us some depth, scoring at all positions.”
As the Dons handled Sonoma State, Arizona State (3-0) was busy dispatching Long Beach State 90-58. In three games, Luguentz is 23-of-53 (43.4%) with 23 rebounds. Zylan Cheatham is averaging 10 rebounds per game and Lake, averaging 16 minutes off the bench, is 12-of-15 from the floor with 21 rebounds.
“It’s going to take a team effort to defend ASU,” Ratinho said. “It’s going to take everybody on Friday.”
The first 1,000 fans at War Memorial Gym for the 6 p.m. tilt will get gold-out shirts in what’s expected to be a raucous environment.
“We’re excited,” Ferrari said. “I think the community will rally around us. The game being on a Friday night will draw a great crowd. ASU will travel well. I think it’s going to be sold out. It’s going to be fun.”