For the No. 4 Arizona men’s basketball team, the past two weeks without sophomore forward Brandon Ashley have been a bleak change of pace. The Wildcats have lost two of their past four games after winning 21 straight.
In Arizona’s 69-66 double-overtime loss to ASU Friday, the Wildcats shot a dismal 35.9 percent accuracy from the floor. Recently, the Arizona has been utilizing different rotations in an attempt to compensate for Ashley’s loss, but has lacked the offensive production it once had. Arizona converted 23 of its 64 field goal attempts against the Sun Devils.
Head coach Sean Miller said in his weekly press conference on Monday that he’s the first to admit the team needs to be scoring far more efficiently than it has been. His solution moving forward is to dig deeper into the rotation and spread around minutes.
“Nobody understands more than I that the ball going in the basket a little bit more — whether that’s execution or sometimes just a player making the shots he’s taking — will give us a lot more room for error,” Miller said. “The one thing I learned in the ASU game is we have to play our bench more.”
Friday, Arizona didn’t use its bench in the final minutes of regulation and at all in overtime. The starters played roughly the final 15 minutes of the game.
Miller said that without relying on the reserves, something was bound to break with the amount players were being asked to do. He said that in order to move in the right direction, standout reserves will get more minutes to alleviate the starters the burden of having to play every possession.
“I think playing our bench is key because once you decide not to play [the bench], you have players [in the game] playing ‘not to make mistakes,’” Miller said. “Transitions opportunities aren’t as plentiful.”
Miller went on to say that the coaching staff has confidence in Jordin Mayes, Elliott Pitts, Gabe York and Matt Korcheck to fill those minutes. Against ASU, York logged 14 minutes of action in the 50-minute game, by far the most out of the four bench players.
Sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski agreed with Miller and said that production from the bench will be crucial in the season’s final weeks.
“We all believe it’s what’s best for the team,” Tarczewski said. “In these next few games, we’ll definitely look for more contribution off the bench out of Pitts, York, Mayes and Korcheck. Those guys coming in and helping us out will give us that extra boost of energy towards the end of the games.”
When asked about the team’s evolving offense since Ashley’s injury, junior point guard T.J.
McConnell said that getting the reserves more minutes on the court would be beneficial and help them feel more comfortable playing alongside starters.
“With the guys coming off the bench, they’ve still got to get used to playing with us,” McConnell said. “If we just move on offense and share the ball like we have been all year, I think we’ll be fine. We know … our offense doesn’t look like it did against ASU.”
—Follow Evan Rosenfeld @EvanRosenfeld17