Arizona Wildcats lose Brandon Ashley, first game of the season
BERKELEY, Calif. — No. 1 Arizona could not overcome the test of an injury to sophomore starting forward Brandon Ashley.
The perfect season came to an end as California’s Justin Cobbs sunk a game-winning fadeaway jumper with .9 seconds left to give the Golden Bear’s a 60-58 victory and its first ever win over a top-ranked school.
“Anytime you lose a starter during the game, it takes a lot of resolve on your group and team to fight,” head coach Sean Miller said.
In the early minutes of Saturday’s game, Ashley went to the ground with what is being called a broken right foot.
Cal fans rush the Haas Pavilion court after the Golden Bears upset No. 1 Arizona on Saturday night.
Following the game, Miller said Ashley hadn’t had an X-ray on the swollen foot but appeared certain that was the injury. Miller speculated that Ashley would be out for much, if not all, of the season.
“I was really excited to watch our team play without Brandon [Ashley], because we did some of the same things. We rebounded the ball well, played good defense,” Miller said, “but we couldn’t get those easy, second-chance points.”
Similar to Arizona’s Jan. 26 65-56 home win over Utah, offensive rebounds and second-chance points kept the Wildcats in the game. The difference between the Utah game and Saturday’s was that those second-chance buckets didn’t happen in the second half.
Arizona (21-1, 8-1 Pac-12 Conference) had 11 offensive rebounds in the first half, but only had three in the second. Despite the low second half offensive rebound total, the Wildcats made up for it by getting the Golden Bears in foul trouble.
Arizona’s season-long free-throw problems were non-existent Saturday. The Wildcats made all 16 of their free-throw attempts.
“The offensive rebounds and strong free-throw shooting definitely kept us in the game, but the low shooting percentage is the reason we lost,” junior point guard T.J. McConnell said.
Arizona made 32.3 percent of its shots against the Golden Bears.
California (15-7, 6-3) led 30-29 at halftime, and the Wildcats had scored 12 points off of offensive rebounds.
But the low second half offensive rebound total affected Arizona’s chances of getting second-chance points. The Wildcats only had two second-chance points in the second half.
Miller didn’t directly say after the game if Ashley’s presence would have made a difference. He was adamant in saying, however, that junior guard Nick Johnson was not the problem.
“His intent was right, his focus was really good, he just missed some shots and had a few turnovers he normally doesn’t have,” Miller said. “I think we all know we wouldn’t be anywhere close to 21-1 without Nick.”
Johnson had his worse offensive game Saturday night. The junior made one of his 14 shot attempts and missed all five of his three point attempts, finishing the game with four points and five turnovers.
Saturday’s loss was bound to come for Arizona.
“I think we all knew we weren’t going to go 40-0,” Miller said.
What was surprising is that it came on a night when free-throw shooting was strong. But an already-slim bench couldn’t overcome the injury to one of its starters.
“Not having Brandon out there definitely changed the dynamic of the game,” sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski said. “I have to give credit to Cobbs; he made a tough shot, and to Cal, they played well.”
Similar to Colorado losing one of its starters in Spencer Dinwiddie, Arizona will have to quickly regroup and make sure this loss and the loss of Ashley doesn’t snowball as the Wildcats’ first loss did last season.
Ashley’s immediate replacement in the starting lineup will be freshman forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who finished Saturday’s game with 10 points and seven rebounds in 31 minutes of playing time.
“I feel good about our team being 21-1 and 8-1 [in conference]. Now, for us, we have to get back to the drawing board and be prepared if Brandon isn’t with us,” Miller said. “We’ve practiced 75 times, had 21 games, its February 1 — believe it or not, we’re going to be all right.”
—Follow Luke Della @LukeDella