Many things had to go wrong for the Arizona Wildcats to fall to ASU.
The 69-66 overtime loss needed Jermaine Marshall to tear apart Arizona throughout but also to hit three huge shots when it mattered. The Sun Devils needed UA's bench to go scoreless. Nick Johnson put up another poor-shooting night as well, and ASU also required a block on a final Arizona possession to hold on.
Arizona's not dead in the water and still mighty talented, but it's no longer a title contender unless one player or a few blossom. Great defense gets you nowhere without an offense. Whether that comes in Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson or Gabe York, it's the reality.
Re-examining the loss of Ashley
Ashley stretched the floor a tad, but he also was the one post player who could score on his own. And he did so in a variety of ways.
Perhaps the most glaring statistic after the poor shooting percentages is that Arizona beat ASU 18-5 on the offensive boards but could only muster five second-chance points to the Sun Devils' 3. Ashley made a living on offensive rebounds, and 27 percent of his total made shots at the rim came off the glass. He was 100 percent on those opportunities.
After Hollis-Jefferson, Ashley was the most effective at scoring at the rim -- the most efficient shot in basketball -- because he was able to make his own play. He was assisted on 48 percent of his shots at the rim, according to Hoop-Math.com. Gordon sits at 60 percent and Tarczewski is at 70 percent.
After York, Ashley was also he team's best three-point shooter at 37.9 percent, and after that duo, nobody on Arizona's roster shoots better than T.J. McConnell's 34.8 percent. Ashley was also the best two-point jump shooter on the team. At 42 percent, he's followed by McConnell's 41 percent and Nick Johnson's 37 percent before a large drop-off.
Simply put, Ashley impacted the game in more ways than his shooting, but that shooting also opened up a lot of his game.
Ashley didn't need low-post touches. He could catch the ball on the wing or at the high post to make a few dribble moves en route to the bucket, something neither Gordon nor Tarczewski can do. And while Hollis-Jefferson and Gordon can drive to the hoop as well, it's not as easy without a jumper.
Why is the offense broken?
Here was about the only good thing ASU forward Eric Jacobsen brought to the game -- he played 18 minutes and failed to record a statistic other than a turnover and two fouls.
Jacobsen had to defend Aaron Gordon, and at one point, he picked up a charge as the UA forward dribbled into the thick of the paint from the left wing. How'd he stay in front of the more-athletic Gordon? As Gordon drove from near the three-point line, Jacobsen just had to sit and wait for him eight feet from the rim. The play revealed just how much Gordon's lack of a jumper hurts him.
Because Gordon's defender, not to mention Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's, can sink in, Tarczewski's post presence is no longer an obvious advantage for the Wildcats.
McConnell had six turnovers on the day, but most of them came on either post-entry passes or interior passes. The entry passes are usually open ones, but with ASU sinking in, there was generally a second defender on Tarczewski's back coming from the weak side. Tarczewski showed his value with maybe his best game yet, but Arizona can't easily get him the ball in the low-post at this point.
Simply put, shooters are still for hire.
York and Elliott Pitts didn't give enough with the opportunity given, but they'll certainly have their shots to get more comfortable as the Wildcats move through the Pac-12 schedule. Johnson's wrist could still be an issue, and if it's just a shooting slump, well, he'll have to get out of it if Arizona wants to make a legitimate run.
McConnell might be forced to look for his jump shot more, but that risks taking away what made him so good early on.
Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson won't learn to shoot overnight, but they can develop some regular mid-range move to at least keep defenses honest.
The foul issues might represent Arizona's shooting abilities in general, and the problem that was identified in the preseason has become more true since the loss of Ashley. Miller doesn't have a lot to work with in terms of shooting, but he does have some unique skill-sets that he'll have to get creative with. If not, expect some more ugly games like that against ASU, especially come the postseason.
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