Coaches love the refrain “control what you can control,” but the major theme of this season for Utes junior Sedrick Barefield has been searching for a way to thrive on the court while ceding more control than he ever has before.
Barefield, a scoring point guard throughout his prep, AAU and collegiate careers until this season, has seen his season marked by large fluctuations in his production. He has endured extended shooting slumps for the first time he can remember. The latest twist in his season of peaks and valleys included him coming off the bench in Sunday’s win against Washington State.
Barefield, a 6-foot-2 resident of Corona, Calif., started 16 of the first 17 games he played this season. Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak wouldn’t commit to Barefield staying in a bench role or possibly returning to the starting lineup this week when the Utes (12-7, 4-4) start their Pac-12 Conference road trip at 7:30 p.m. Thursday against No. 21 Arizona State (15-4, 3-4) in Tempe, Ariz.
“Sedrick was really welcome to the idea,” Krystkowiak said about Barefield coming off the bench. “... I don’t know if I just woke up in the middle of the night a couple nights ago, but I thought, man, he’d be a heck of a punch coming off the bench.”
Things appeared set up coming into this season for Barefield to take on a central role in the offense and a jump in scoring. The Utes lost four of their top six scorers from the previous season. Barefield, the top returning perimeter threat, averaged 9.0 points per game and shot 39 percent from the 3-point line despite being ineligible for the first semester due to NCAA transfer rules.
The addition of graduate transfer Justin Bibbins figured to take pressure off Barefield. He looked poised for a big season when he started the season with a 22-point performance that included 8-of-12 shooting against a wildly overmatched Prairie View A&M team.
After missing a game with a stomach virus, Barefield scored just 5 points on 2-of-11 shooting in a win against Missouri, but he dished out eight assists. However, his shooting woes continued and became more pronounced as Bibbins has taken the reins as the primary ball handler.
Barefield enters this week shooting 28.7 percent from the field and 33.7 percent from 3-point range this season. He had gone 1-of-18 shooting dating back to the end of the Arizona State loss in Salt Lake City before Sunday’s 14-point performance against Washington State.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been in a shooting slump,” Barefield said. “In high school, I was a 40 percent-plus 3-point shooter. I was like 40 to 50 from 2, so it’s different for me. I think that it’s just molding me into a better player, learning how to deal with it.”
Bibbins and Barefield both played for the Compton Magic AAU club in California, though they were in different age groups. Barefield was front and center to greet Bibbins during his campus visit this offseason as Bibbins scouted out Utah as a graduate transfer. Barefield championed Bibbins’ addition during the summer and throughout the preseason, but it has meant big changes for Barefield’s style of play.
Bibbins, named the Pac-12′s player of the week Monday, entered this week leading the team in scoring (14.2 ppg), assists (5.1 per game) and 3-point shooting (46.4 percent). He’s become entrenched as the team’s floor general and initiator of the offense.
“I’ve definitely had to adjust for the betterment of the team,” Barefield said. “Bibbs is a great on-ball guard, and we’ve put the ball in his hands and we trust him. It’s been different for me because I’ve played point guard as well. Sometimes the first touch I get is an open shot, and I have to shoot it. I haven’t dribbled. I haven’t touched the ball yet throughout the game, so it’s just a lot of different looks.”
Barefield’s ability to create and make his own shot remains a pivotal element for the Utes. He posted back-to-back 20-point games in the team’s near-misses against Arizona and Arizona State.
Barefield almost single-handedly rallied the team from a 14-point halftime deficit against Arizona to turn it into a tie game with 3:45 remaining. He scored 20 of his 21 points in the second half, including a stretch of 12 consecutive points. He followed with 21 points and five 3-pointers in a 3-point loss against ASU.
“It definitely opens up the court because guys can’t help off of my teammates,” Bibbins said Sunday about the difference Barefield’s shooting makes. “They have to respect Sedrick’s jumper.”
Coming off the bench certainly will be an adjustment for Barefield if he stays in the role, but not as big as him having to adjust to playing off the ball. After all, Barefield came off the bench last season in all but three games after he became eligible.
“It’s just whatever the team needs,” Barefield said. “I had some games where I struggled early in the game. [Krystkowiak] came to me about coming off the bench and bringing the team some energy, some scoring off the bench. It’s really whatever he asks of me, I’ll accept it, and I think it’s best for the team right now so I’ll embrace that role.”
UTAH AT ARIZONA STATE <br>Tipoff • 7:30 p.m. Thursday <br>TV • Pac-12 Network <br>Radio • 700 AM <br>Records • Utah 12-7, 4-4; ASU 15-4, 3-4 <br>Series history • Utah leads 32-21 <br>About the Utes • Utes senior forward Tyler Rawson scored a game-high 22 points and made 6 of 7 3-pointers in Sunday’s 70-62 win against Washington State. Rawson leads the team in rebounding (6.3 per game) and blocked shots (1.2). He also ranks third in scoring (11.1 ppg). … Freshman forward Donnie Tillman has averaged 9.7 points and 4.3 rebounds while shooting 45 percent from the field in three starts since returning from his foot injury. He played just 7 minutes against Washington State due to foul trouble. … Justin Bibbins scored 22 points and handed out six assists against Arizona State earlier this season. <br>About the Sun Devils • Tra Holder and Remy Martin scored 13 points apiece in an 81-73 win against California on Saturday. Holder has been in a shooting slump of late. He’s gone 8 of 34 from the field (2 of 12 on 3-pointers) in his past three games. … Arizona State leads the Pac-12 in scoring (86.7 points per game) and turnover margin (+3.6 per game), and it also ranks second in 3-pointers made per game (9.4 per game). … Senior guard Shannon Evans II scored a team-high 22 points and made 5 of 7 3-pointers in a win against the Utes on Jan. 7 in Salt Lake City.