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Assertiveness, experience paying off for Arizona’s Brandon Ashley

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Last season Arizona forward Brandon Ashley was part of a trio of freshmen who arrived in Tucson amidst much fanfare. Joined by Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski, the McDonald’s All-American was expected to hit the ground running in his debut campaign. While that didn’t happen Ashley was a productive member of a team that reached the Sweet 16, posting averages of 7.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.

With a year of experience under his belt and a bigger role, Ashley’s made significant strides in all aspects of his game. Entering Wednesday night’s game against New Mexico State he was averaging 12.0 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, reaching double figures in seven of the top-ranked Wildcats’ nine games. Ashley reached double figures for the eighth time in ten games in Arizona’s 74-48 win over the Aggies, tallying 15 points and six rebounds.

Ashley scored ten of those points in the first 20 minutes, as the Wildcats struggled until the latter stages of the half to gain some separation against the preseason favorites to win the WAC. He’s been more assertive offensively, and the end result has been improved scoring opportunities both inside and out. For as good as this athletic group of Wildcats has the potential to be defensively there’s still some work to do offensively, which makes Ashley’s start to this season a key development moving forward.

Also reaching double figures were Tarczewski (14 points, five rebounds) and freshmen Aaron Gordon (11 points) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (12 points, eight rebounds and three assists), with Hollis-Jefferson displaying his versatility on both ends of the floor. There isn’t going to be one player asked to carry the full scoring load for Arizona and that’s fine, with their balance being a byproduct of how talented the players in Sean Miller’s rotation are.

With that being the case the question is who will step up and becomes the players Arizona can expect to receive scoring from on a consistent basis. Through ten games it’s become rather apparent that Brandon Ashley’s taken that next step, but that development will be put to the test on Saturday when Arizona visits Michigan. Unlike New Mexico State the Wolverines have both the size and the athleticism to challenge the Wildcat big men, with the Aggies’ interior players struggling to keep up in the second half on Wednesday night.

Arizona’s already won in one hostile environment, as they held off San Diego State last month, and if they’re to add another quality road victory to their resume the Wildcats will need another standout performance from Ashley.

USC athletic director Pat Haden to step down in June

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LOS ANGELES (AP) University of Southern California athletic director Pat Haden says he will retire on June 30.

USC President Max Nikias made the announcement Friday.

Haden has run the athletic department for 5 1/2 years, leading the Trojans through a multiyear stretch of NCAA sanctions against its vaunted football program. He created a large NCAA compliance program and improved graduation rates and grade point averages across the athletic department.

The former USC quarterback also received criticism for the football program’s relative underachievement and for his handling of coach Steve Sarkisian, who has sued the school over his termination last year.

Nikias says Haden’s department also raised over $400 million during his tenure.

Nikias says Haden will start a one-year job guiding the renovation of the Coliseum after he retires.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Ivy League’s best meet in New Haven

Columbia guard Maodo Lo, right, steals the ball from Northwestern forward Aaron Falzon, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Evanston, Ill.  (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Columbia at Yale, 5:00 p.m.

The two best teams in the Ivy League, with matching 4-0 league records, meet for the first time this season. The Lions were close to suffering their first loss last weekend, but an Alex Rosenberg jumper as time expired gave the Lions the win at reigning champion Harvard. Rosenberg’s one of four players averaging at least 12.2 points per game for Kyle Smith’s team, with senior guard Maodo Lo leading the way at 15.8 per contest.

They’ll face a Yale rotation led offensively by point guard Makai Mason (15.7 ppg, 4.1 apg), and the front court tandem of Justin Sears and Brandon Sherrod has been outstanding. The winner get a leg up in the Ivy race, with the rematch scheduled for March 5 in New York City (regular season finale).

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: Central Michigan at Akron, 8:00 p.m.

Two of the top teams in the Mid-American Conference meet at the JAR, as Akron looks to extend its win streak to six straight. The Zips’ balanced offensive attack has been led by forward Isaiah Johnson (12.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg), who currently leads the team in both scoring and rebounding. As for the visiting Chippewas, guards Braylon Rayson and Chris Fowler combine to average 32.7 points per game, with Fowler also responsible for a MAC-best 6.3 assists per contest. CMU’s had some struggles on the defensive glass in league play, ranking 11th in that category, but they’ve done a better job defensively than they did in non-conference play.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • MAAC leader Monmouth is back in action, as they host a Fairfield team led by one of the conference’s best players in senior forward Marcus Gilbert. The Hawks have a deep lineup led by junior guard Justin Robinson, who at this point in time is the likely frontrunner for MAAC Player of the Year honors.
  • Looking to catch Monmouth is Iona, which is a game behind the Hawks at 9-3. A.J. English and the Gaels visit Canisius in a matchup that should not lack for offense. Iona’s more inclined to run, but Canisius doesn’t lack scorers either with guard Malcolm McMillan leading four players averaging double figures.
  • Given the fact that they’re 1-3 in Ivy League play, Harvard’s essentially in the spoiler role unless some chaos breaks out at the top end of the standings. The Crimson can help in that regard with a win at Princeton, with the Tigers (2-1) a game behind Columbia and Yale in the loss column. Princeton’s been the better offensive team this season, thanks in large part to junior forward Henry Caruso who leads the team in both scoring and rebounding.