BERKELEY, Calif. – The Arizona Wildcats didn’t have an X-ray, didn’t have any sort of confirmation, but knew enough Saturday night that Sean Miller was already considering adjustments.
He said he knew Brandon Ashley would be out, one way or another, for a while simply because of the way the sophomore forward’s foot looked during UA’s 60-58 loss at Cal.
“It’s a foot injury. It looks to be broken,” Miller said. “I don’t think we can say that it is right now just because we have to get the X-rays and overall. But certainly an injury that’s going to have him out a period of time, if not for the entire year."
UA won't know the full extent of the injury until Ashley is tested today and/or Monday, but Miller sounded like he was already bracing for the long haul when asked about it after Saturday's game.
“We have a lot of different guys who wanted more of an opportunity,” Miller said. “Some guys who maybe haven’t quite gotten off the bench as much. They’re going to get their opportunity now and I feel like we’ll still be fine.”
Miller tried playing forward Matt Korcheck for a minute in the first half Thursday, in what was Korcheck’s third Pac-12 game, while East Bay product Elliott Pitts logged three minutes in what was his second Pac-12 appearance.
But a more logical answer to life without Ashley might be that the Wildcats lean a lot more heavily on Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and go with a downsized lineup that could include T.J. McConnell, Nick Johnson and Gabe York playing together. And maybe Jordin Mayes will get an extended chance to break out of his nearly season-long funk.
“Elliott, Jordin, getting another shooter on the court some, maybe a three-guard lineup, that’s something we have to look at,” Miller said about his options. “But the other thing is Rondae has played (an average of) 23 minutes a game – he’s capable. Gabe York has played around 18, and he’s certainly capable.
“Kaleb (Tarczewski) played more tonight (35 minutes) and that’s going to be part of it too. No one on our team has played more than 32 minutes (on average) so we’re now going to become a team where those guys are going to play more and probably go one guy deeper into our bench.”
Miller said he actually saw a lot of encouraging things in the Wildcats’ first loss of the season, when Arizona came back from a nine-point deficit in the first half and an eight-point deficit in the second half to take the game down to the wire.
“I was really excited watching our team play without Brandon because we did some of the same things” as during victories this season, Miller said. “We rebounded the ball well. We played good defense, and took care of the ball. But obviously we didn’t have enough to win it.”
As in many of the UA’s close calls this season, rebounding offset the Wildcats’ shooting troubles … just not quite enough this time.
UA outrebounded Cal 41-32 but shot just 32.3 percent from the field and 2 of 11 from three-point range. That also obscured the fact that the Wildcats were actually a perfect 16 for 16 from the free throw line, thanks in large part to Tarczewski’s 12-of-12 effort.
“We hung in there,” Miller said. “We missed some shots in and around the basket. It wasn’t as if a number of our shots were bad. Some of them may have been contested, but that’s one of our strengths -- being close to the basket and even some of the ones we rebounded and put in, I was almost surprised that the first one didn’t go in.”
Two examples of key late plays that didn’t work this time, according to Miller: David Kravish’s block of Kaleb Tarczewski’s dunk with and a charge call against T.J. McConnell on a play when Aaron Gordon was dunking.
“Both of those plays were right at the rim and they didn’t go our way tonight which so many times this year they have,” Miller said.
Guard Nick Johnson was a microcosm of what-usually-went-right-didn’t-this-time for UA on Saturday: He was 1 for 14 from the field, had five turnovers to one assist and missed the almost exact same floater in the lane with 20 seconds to go that he used to help beat UCLA and Stanford.
While Johnson grabbed his wrist during the game, Miller said he was not aware of any injury to him and, when asked if Johnson might have forced things too much without Ashley in the game, said he didn’t know if that was the case.
“He played a similar type of game,” Miller said. “Even the great players in the NBA, once in a while they check out, and you’re like, `You know what? He didn’t have it tonight or he didn’t play as well.’
“But his intent was right. His focus was really good. But he missed some shots and make some turnovers he normally doesn’t. But I think we all know we woudn’t be anywhere close to 21-1 without Nick.”
Here’s our full coverage from the UA-Cal game: A game story, notes, sidebar, column and photo gallery. (Note: The late start meant our stories were sent before postgame interviews were completed, so you may notice fewer postgame comments than normal).
Here’s the official box score.