Brandon Ashley will likely have surgery in the next “couple of weeks,” UA coach Sean Miller said today, when the Wildcats began figuring out how to replace him.
Arizona continued to characterize Ashley’s issue only as a “foot injury,” indicating it may be more complicated than a simple fracture of his right foot. Miller, who said “it looks to be broken” after UA’s loss at Cal, said he didn’t know why he couldn’t be more specific today.
“It’s a season-ending foot injury and it’s obviously significant,” Miller said. “First and foremost with an injury like that, it’s always about what’s in the best interest of the student-athlete and in this case, what’s in the best interest of Brandon Ashley’s future.
“Right now the next phase is just to determine … there’s different ways of doing surgery but again, which way is going to be in his best interest and that choice is made and he can have the surgery, move forward and have a prosperous career.”
Ashley was not made available for comment but Miller said “obviously he’s devastated” by the sudden ending to his productive sophomore season.
“Brandon is a great kid, a very intelligent kid,” Miller said. “But anytime at that age, with the game that you love, the dreams that you have, and in Brandon’s case he had established himself as a real part of a team that went 21-0 with him. … With all of the things that have gone right with his hard work and investment, when you’re done like that on one play it knocks you back.
“But I have no doubts. Brandon comes from an incredible family, I think everybody has that a positive spirit about them, and he’ll move forward and go on and do great things.”
The Wildcats, of course, now have to move on themselves. Miller noted that they only have to play nine regular-season games plus the postseason without Ashley, but their second-half of Pac-12 play has been expected to be more difficult even with Ashley.
"It sucks but we’re gonna have to move on," guard T.J. McConnell said. "Guys are going to have to step up and play more minutes. We feel bad for Brandon but as a team we’ve gotta move on and get ready for Oregon."
How they move on may be an ever-changing process. Miller basically indicated he will essentially be going with a six-plus type of rotation, with minutes increasing to all current rotation players – especially Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – and a seventh spot player to emerge from among forward Matt Korcheck, guard Elliott Pitts or guard Jordin Mayes.
Which one of those three players is used the most on a given game could be “circumstantial,” Miller said, more so than any one of them permanently emerging. So a bigger opponent may result in Korcheck playing more and a smaller one may allow the Wildcats to go with three guards – with Nick Johnson, Gabe York and T.J. McConnell all playing together at the same time, for example.
Here was Miller’s take on the subject:
“We haven’t had anybody play more than 32 minutes …. And there’s 20 players in our conference who have played more than 32 minutes per game so just for that alone you know that each of our players is capable and are willing to play more than 28, 32 minutes per game.
“So if we did nothing different other than just give the players who have played, minus Brandon, more of an opportunity, that’s part of our solution. With that in mind, we know foul trouble and fatigue can certainly weigh against you but we don’t have to do this for 30 games, just nine regular season games and then we’re in the postseason.
“But I think the next players in line are Matt Korcheck, because he’s practiced hard every day, he’s waited for this opportunity. He’s a physical older player and when he’s out there for spot minutes for a short-term opportunity, physically we don’t lose much because he defends. He’s physical, he plays hard. We don’t need him to score as much as come in and give Kaleb (Tarczewski) a rest, maybe get us out of some foul trouble.
“And then the dual threat of maybe Elliott Pitts, who like Matt has practiced hard, and Jordin, who has played a lot of basketball over his career, but maybe not as much this year. So I would look at Matt with one of those two depending on how we look at each game and how practices evolve. Not only this week, but also beyond.”
One guy who won’t be in the mix: Freshman forward Zach Peters. Miller was asked how ready Peters was to step in, and Miller ended that inquiry right away.
“He’s not ready. He’s not ready,” Miller said. “I don’t look at him as being somebody who is going to play.”
While Johnson was shown holding his hand – and a reporter on Saturday's broadcast said he “reaggravated” an injury – Miller said there was nothing wrong.
“I think his wrist is broken in five places,” he said sarcastically. “I think he’s healthy. … I don’t know what he reaggravated. Nick’s, to me, healthy and … played 21 exceptional games in a row. I don’t know if he had a bad one. He just had a night on game 22 where the ball just didn’t go in. But for him to play hurt I don’t believe he was hurt. Certainly, it’s news to me.”
After hitting 12 of 12 free throws to improve to 82.4 percent from the line this season, Tarczewski said he’s become more comfortable shooting free throws than he was as a freshman. He hit only 63.3 percent of his free throws last season.
“It’s tough having 12,000 people stare at you when you’re shooting free throws,” Tarczewski said. “You feel like you’re on an iceberg out there.”