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.