UA HOOPS

Arizona basketball: Ashley sees the light on defense

After stopping ASU's Felix, freshman hopes to disrupt UCLA, too
2013-01-23T00:00:00Z 2013-09-14T20:53:36Z Arizona basketball: Ashley sees the light on defenseBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 23, 2013 12:00 am  • 

With seven points in the first three minutes against Utah earlier this month, Arizona Wildcats freshman forward Brandon Ashley was performing offensively like people expected of a McDonald's All-American.

He was performing like he wanted.

But there was a problem on the other end of the court.

Utah's Jordan Loveridge, a freshman rated considerably lower than Ashley out of high school, ripped the Wildcats for 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting in the first half alone, largely against Ashley's defense.

Loveridge totaled 17 points to help the Utes stay in a game UA won by only three points.

Something changed that day.

"After the Utah game, I didn't like how easy it was for him to score on me in the first half," Ashley said. "And then (there was) just the fact that in practice, (defense) was something that was always being talked about."

In other words, UA coach Sean Miller's message about defense was finally getting through, thanks to that dose of in-game reality.

So, two weeks later, Ashley helped limit ASU's Carrick Felix to 1-of-8 shooting in UA's 71-54 win over the Sun Devils on Saturday.

"Honestly, I just focused on defense a lot more," Ashley said. "Earlier in the season I was focused on how many points and rebounds I was getting, not necessarily whether I was stopping the person that I was guarding. Changing my perspective and focus more on defense, that definitely helped me out a lot."

It wasn't a simple transition, but Miller helped.

Having said there was "no question" Ashley struggled defensively against Utah, Miller then threw him into the fire in practice: He made Ashley defend seniors Kevin Parrom and Solomon Hill, the Wildcats' two versatile, experienced small forwards.

For a 6-foot-8-inch freshman, it was not an easy task.

That's "two guys who are very talented three men," Ashley said, "two guys who helped me with my lateral quickness and my defensive ability."

Two guys who helped Ashley adjust to what life is really like for a Pac-12 power forward, where on any given night you might be guarding a quick 6-6 wing who pulls you to the perimeter or a 6-10 bruiser who prefers the paint.

Adaptability is critical.

"In this conference, you face both the physical four-men (power forwards) who are basically centers and then the face-up guys who are basically three-men (small forwards)," Ashley said. With "the athletic guys who can dribble and shoot, it's definitely hard to adjust."

Felix was one of those versatile 6-6 forwards comfortable and effective on the perimeter, having scored in double digits for 16 straight games. But he had just five points Saturday.

Parrom was glad to see Ashley's defensive performance.

"At the beginning, he wasn't that good, but now he's getting better," Parrom said. "He's more confident. It's all mental with Brandon on the defensive end. Once he gets it going and gets a couple of stops, he's fine, like you saw in the ASU game. Hopefully, he'll continue that."

Actually, the No. 6 Wildcats can't afford Ashley to stop the focus now. On Thursday against UCLA, Arizona is likely to find any one of several athletic, wing-minded talents at power forward, such as David or Travis Wear, or freshman Kyle Anderson.

Miller is hoping that some good recent memories, and a little positive reinforcement, can help Ashley and his teammates keep it going, after Arizona collectively held its past two opponents under 40 percent shooting.

Miller praised Ashley's defense in his postgame locker room speech Saturday, to the media after Saturday's game and also in his weekly news conference Tuesday at McKale Center.

"Brandon Ashley played a huge role" against ASU, Miller said Tuesday. "It was kind of a silent role, but he was in the right place more times than he wasn't, and he executed and worked really hard.

"When you have success and you see it, you want to keep doing it, and that's where our team is. At least that's where I hope we are moving into this weekend."

On StarNet: Get more on reporter Bruce Pascoe's blog at azstarnet.com/pascoe

Up next

• Who: UCLA at No. 6 Arizona

• When: 7 p.m. Thursday

• TV: ESPN2

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Sp)

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