BERKELEY, Calif. — While the question “When will Arizona men’s basketball finally lose?” has finally been answered, the injury to starting power forward Brandon Ashley brings up a host of new ones.
During No. 1 Arizona’s 60-58 loss at California, the sophomore from San Francisco injured his foot, raising questions like: Will Arizona be able return to form without one of its starters? Or will the Wildcats run into the same struggles in their remaining games as last year’s squad?
After suffering their first loss last season, the Wildcats posted a 13-7 record in their final 20 games — and that was without any major injuries.
Ashley — who collapsed to the floor just two minutes into the game after landing wrong on a jump — has been a key offensive cog for the Wildcats this year and was in the midst of a breakout sophomore campaign, which was seeing him shoot with 52.8 percent accuracy from the field and average 12 points and six rebounds per game. Ashley has proven to be one of Arizona’s most versatile players this season.
UA head coach Sean Miller said Sunday that Ashley is done for the season, which is a sobering blow to the previously undefeated team that had hopes for a national championship.
“Anytime you lose a starter to an injury during a game, it takes a lot of resolve on your team to fight,” Miller said. “I was really excited about watching our team play without Brandon because we did some of the same things. We rebounded the ball well, played good defense, took care of it — but obviously didn’t have enough to win it.”
Ashley’s replacement on Saturday was freshman forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who had 10 points — third-most on the team — seven rebounds, two blocks, an assist and a steal against the Golden Bears.
“Now, for us, we have to get back to the drawing board and make sure that we can move forward if Brandon is not with us,” Miller said.
After Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona’s bench is more questionable. Junior forward Matt Korcheck played only one minute on Saturday and had 1.2 points and 1.4 rebounds per game in 10 appearances.
Freshman forward Zach Peters can stretch the court as a shooter but has been limited by concussions and illness after transferring from Kansas. If Hollis-Jefferson isn’t in the lineup, expect the Wildcats to go to a three guard set, bringing either Gabe York, Jordin Mayes or Elliott Pitts off the bench. Mayes and Pitts have seen little to no playing time in recent games.
“It’s going to be a tough hit having [Ashley] out,” sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski said. “He’s a great player and really brings a lot of different things to this team. It’s going to be hard, but we have some great players on the team and we’re really going to try to do the best we can without him and work to become a stronger team.”
—Follow Evan Rosenfeld @EvanRosenfeld17