The Arizona Wildcats fell 60-58 to the California Golden Bears on Saturday, but now comes the haunting news following the first loss in 22 games this year. Forward Brandon Ashley, who went down with an injury in the first half of the game, could be lost for the season with a broken foot.
UA coach Sean Miller said on his radio show that he fears the worst.
Arizona coach Sean Miller said on his radio show PF Brandon Ashley might be lost for the year. Thinks foot is broken, depends on severity.— Michael DeCourcy (@tsnmike) February 2, 2014
Arizona lost Richard Jefferson with broken foot at Stanford in Jan 2000. But he returned for NCAAs. Might be fortunate if Ashley is too— Greg Hansen (@ghansen711) February 2, 2014
Suddenly, Arizona's tournament picture seem drastically different.
A loss this deep into the year would have been meaningless otherwise, but the one thing that would quickly swipe at the Wildcats' championship hopes happened -- injury struck. Miller hasn't shown much confidence in his bench and he didn't on Saturday at Haas Pavilion, hardly going to even Gabe York when Ashley came down on a Cal player's foot.
Suddenly, it became clear how much Arizona needed Ashley's mediocre three-point shooting to spread the floor at the power forward spot. He also didn't get enough mention as a solid defensive presence. Quickly, the Wildcats went from an NBA-sized team to and undersized one with freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson filling in.
They're now mighty vulnerable.
Here's what the picture looks like without Ashley.
There's no Grant Jerrett or Angelo Chol waiting in the wings.
If Angelo Chol had stuck around and not transferred to San Diego State, he would at the very least have provided the length in the interior that allowed the Wildcats to have two rim-protectors on the floor at one time. More importantly, he would have provided a backup center that would have kept the interior in check when big man Kaleb Tarczewski took a breather.
Now, Aaron Gordon moves to the power forward spot, and at this point he might end up replacing Ashley's spot as backup center. He's 6'9, 225 pounds and with a 6'11.5 wingspan, and that might not cut it. After all, Cal's big men, David Kravish and Richard Solomon, were more than capable of having their way with UA's thin front line.
If Grant Jerrett had stuck around and not declared for the NBA, he would have also added length. And he also would have become exponentially more valuable as a spot-up shooter. As is, the Wildcats won't have a shooter at the 3-5 spots unless forward Zach Peters shows any sign of contributing. He hasn't thus far.
That's a lot to swallow.
So who's up?
Hollis-Jefferson immediately gets a chance to shine. He slides to the small forward spot to play with Tarczewski and Gordon, and the Wildcats will have a savvy passing duo between its two forwards. Arizona should still be a dangerous rebounding team considering Hollis-Jefferson is so active in that area, especially on the offensive glass.
On offense, Hollis-Jefferson, again, doesn't have a jumper to at least keep defenses honest.
After that, Matt Korcheck might have a chance to play spot-minutes for Arizona. For what we've seen of him, he could provide some toughness inside but could be foul-prone and doesn't have the length to bother shots in the paint. Peters could also contribute, but it's a wonder where he stands health-wise.
It might come down to giving Gordon and Tarczewski more responsibility. Gordon's apprehensiveness on offense is becoming more and more concerning -- forget his jumper, he cant even score five feet from the hoop without any semblance of a post game or a willingness to drive. Tarczewski got to the foul stripe against the Golden Bears, but he's not been as effective in the post of late.
Oddly enough, point guard T.J. McConnell will need to get things figured out as well. Teams have been attacking him and getting the ball out of his hands of late, which hasn't helped the post offense a bit.
It's not panic time for Arizona yet. The Pac-12 probably isn't as strong as originally believed, so it's likely the Wildcats can stay afloat. The room for error, however, is now much less than it was before Ashley went down.
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