After outscoring its opponents 187-109 in the first two rounds of the NIT Season Tip-Off and securing a bid to the semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York, Arizona is set to face Drexel in what head coach Sean Miller expects to be a solid matchup.
“Drexel is very good. It’s going to be very difficult on Wednesday, but it’s exciting to prepare for,” Miller said. “This is one of the most prestigious tournaments that college basketball has. To play in Madison Square Garden is something our players will remember forever.”
Miller added that if Arizona wants to enjoy a successful trip, the Wildcats have to improve in certain aspects of the game that were lacking in the second game of the tournament.
“We weren’t moving the ball as a cohesive unit in the first eight minutes of the game [and] because of that, we didn’t score. We took quick shots and didn’t have that ball movement and togetherness,” Miller said. “In the second half we didn’t defend nearly as well. It was a tale of two halves. If you look at the second half defensively, we weren’t really good. Defense is our identity and if we lose that, it can carry into the next game.”
Brandon Ashley’s early success
After averaging 7.5 points and 5.3 rebounds last season for the Wildcats, power forward Brandon Ashley is on track to enjoy a breakout season in his sophomore campaign after returning from the offseason bulked up and with new confidence.
When asked about Ashley’s early season success, Wildcats’ starting point guard T.J. McConnell emphasized that the sophomore has played an invaluable role for Arizona thus far.
“Honestly, I don’t think he could have played any better to this point,” McConnell said. “He’s pretty much doing everything for us; he’s hitting outside shots, he’s rebounding and he’s passing. I think the games would be a lot closer if we didn’t have him.”
Ashley has sunk 69.7 percent of his field goal attempts and is averaging 12 points and 7.2 rebounds per game so far this year. Over his first five games last season, Ashley’s consistency was not as prevalent and he held a 61.8 percent field goal percentage.
The introduction of the NCAA’s new hand-check rule, which instructs officials to call fouls on defenders who keep a hand or forearm on an opponent, has resulted in an increase in fouls.
Arizona has committed 91 fouls over its first five games this year, compared to 88 over last year’s first five. Ashley leads the team with 20 personal fouls, has been in foul trouble every game and is averaging four fouls over his first five starts this year. He fouled out against LBSU, collected four fouls a game against Cal Poly, SDSU and Fairleigh Dickinson, and three against Rhode Island.
“I’ve struggled with it a little early on,” Ashley said. “I thought yesterday I did a pretty good job until the last five minutes. I’m getting used to the new rules and how the refs are calling everything.”
— Follow Evan Rosenfeld @EvanRosenfeld17