The offensive issues for No. 2 Arizona began before sophomore forward Brandon Ashley was lost for the season with a broken right foot. In the 60-58 loss at Cal in which Ashley suffered his injury the Wildcats shot just 32.3% from the field, but that was the third of a four-game stretch in which Arizona would shoot no better than 40% in any of those contests.
Accounting for the loss of a player who provided 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game isn’t easy, especially when considering how versatile Ashley is on both ends of the floor. Arizona will have to do so as a unit, with multiple players chipping in, and if that happens they’re still a team capable of making a run at a national title. On Sunday night against Oregon State that was the case, with the Wildcats making 50% of their shots from the field (56.5% from two) on their way to a comfortable 76-54 victory.
Arizona didn’t shoot particularly well from three, making just three of their 12 attempts, but they made up for this by consistently looking to get the ball inside. The Wildcats scored 40 points in the paint, and Aaron Gordon led four players in double figures with 17 points. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson tallied a career-high 16 to go along with five rebounds and three assists, with T.J. McConnell (11 points, six assists) and Nick Johnson (ten points, three assists) also reaching double figures.
Also of note is the fact that without Ashley the Wildcats’ work on the offensive glass becomes even more important, and against Oregon State they corralled nearly 43% of their own misses and converted those opportunities into 13 second-chance points. With the lack of consistent “lights-out” perimeter shooters, paint touches and second-chance opportunities will continue to be important areas for Arizona to take advantage of as the season wears on.
Defensively the Wildcats were good, with Johnson being the primary defender of Oregon State’s Roberto Nelson. The Pac-12’s leading scorer, Nelson was limited to ten points on 3-for-12 shooting from the field. If there’s one thing Arizona’s consistently done this season it’s defend, and that’s unlikely to change thanks to the remaining personnel.
But that’s a known at this point for Arizona. The concern for the Wildcats in the aftermath of Ashley’s injury was whether or not they’d be able to generate enough points against the teams they’ll need to beat in order to be a title contender. Oregon State isn’t the greatest litmus test but after the last four games Arizona needed to get back to creating quality looks inside by way of either the pass or dribble penetration, and they were able to do that.