With the 2010s coming to a close in a little more than a week, plenty of stories are coming out summarizing the last decade in sports. Most are highlighting the best players, teams, moments, etc.
A piece by Rob Dauster of NBC Sports takes a different angle, speculating on a series of “what if” moments that greatly impacted the college basketball landscape over the past 10 years.
One of those “what ifs” directly involves the Arizona Wildcats: the broken foot suffered by Brandon Ashley midway through the 2013-14 season.
For those who might have forgotten—or blocked out what happened after—Arizona was 21-0 and No. 1 in the country entering a Feb. 1, 2014 game at Cal. Just two minutes into what would be the Wildcats’ first loss of the season, Ashley landed awkwardly on his right foot and didn’t return; the next day he was ruled out for the rest of the season.
Ashley was averaging 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game on a team that was only regularly using seven players. Arizona went 12-5 without Ashley (including the loss to Cal) and Dauster contended his presence in the NCAA tournament might have been what it took to get past Wisconsin in the Elite Eight:
He was a really good player on a team that had quite a few really good players. But the real value Ashley carried was evident in the game against Wisconsin, when the quicker Frank Kaminsky was able to exploit Kaleb Tarczewski to the tune of 28 points and 11 boards on 11-for-20 shooting. Ashley’s health would have allowed Sean Miller to be able to play a more fleet-a-foot big at the five without going to a small lineup. That doesn’t sound like much, but in a game that went to overtime when only one guy on the winning team had a good game, slowing him down even a little bit would have been the difference.
That was the first of two consecutive Elite Eight losses to the Badgers, and since then Arizona has only advanced beyond the first round of the NCAA tournament once.