Offensive struggles prove costly for No. 2 Arizona in Tempe

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Without arguably their most versatile offensive threat in sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, it was clear at the time of his season-ending injury that No. 2 Arizona had some important adjustments to make. Ashley’s injury robbed the Wildcats of a player capable of scoring both inside and out, and that personnel hit was something Arizona would need the assistance of multiple players to help account for it.

Losing a player of Ashley’s caliber made Nick Johnson’s role within the Arizona offense even more important. Averaging 15.8 points per game, Johnson’s led the way for the Wildcats for much of this season while shooting 44.6% from the field. However in the aftermath of Ashley’s injury Johnson has struggled offensively, and that remained the case in the Wildcats’ 69-66 double overtime loss at Arizona State on Friday night.

Johnson scored 14 points on 5-for-20 shooting from the field, failing to make a single field goal in either overtime period. Given his ability to score in a variety of ways, something no other Wildcat currently in the rotation can consistently do, Johnson is the player Arizona can’t afford to see go through a shooting slump. Yet over the last four games, Johnson’s shooting 25% from the field and 1-for-18 from beyond the arc.

To be fair Johnson isn’t the only player who’s struggled offensively of late, and against Arizona State the Wildcats shot just 35.9% from the field and 4-for-16 from deep. Finding quality shots proved difficult for much of the night, and the combination of this with poor foul shooting (16-for-30) and an inability to take advantage of 18 offensive rebounds (five second-chance points) eventually caught up to the Wildcats.

Another problem for Arizona on Friday, and it’s one that could prove problematic in the NCAA tournament, is their lack of depth when it comes to offensive production. Arizona’s bench didn’t score a single point against Arizona State, with Gabe York missing all six of his shot attempts and Elliott Pitts going 0-for-2. With Rondae Hollis-Jefferson now in the starting lineup as a result of Ashley’s injury, Arizona needs to get something from its bench in order to be successful and this has to occur consistently.

With the loss of Ashley, Arizona’s margin for error became incredibly small. And if the Wildcats are unable to take advantage of their ability to hit the offensive boards, which was the case against Arizona State, the task of scoring at an efficient rate becomes even more arduous. And if Arizona can’t figure out its offensive issues, the race for the Pac-12 title will end up being wilder than anyone would have imagined just a couple weeks ago.