Brandon Ashley only took four shots Wednesday against NAU, and he missed three of them. But he was still a major factor over his 23 minutes.
Ashley had 11 rebounds, 10 of them defensive, while dishing three assists, blocking three shots and turning the ball over once.
“I wish he had gotten more shots but from my perspective, Northern Arizona did a job of trying to hide their height disadvantage, front the low post and mix in a zone and crowd when the guys got the ball” inside, Miller said. “But our big guys are unselfish. Tonight wasn’t his night offensive but to his credit he played really well.”
Ashley said he wanted to make sure he had an impact on the game somehow. While he’s only 18, Ashley said he learned that scoring wasn’t the only way to do so while playing alongside other talent at Findlay Prep last season.
“Me going to off to prep school, that helped me out, and coming to this team where there’s a lot of talented players,” Ashley said. “I know I’m not going to have the best offensive night every night but I still need to perform well.”
Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski combined for just eight points Wednesday but Miller found it hard to complain.
Overall offensively, the Wildcats shot 57.7 percent from the field, had 22 assists for their 30 field goals and only 11 turnovers. They made 12 of 21 three-pointers, too.
“When you have 22 assists and make 12 threes, it’s tough to say a lot of negative things -- especially when you only have 11 turnovers,” Miller said. “We have to continue to improve and get better at getting the ball inside but tonight I credit NAU. I think they did a really good job” defending the post.
However, Angelo Chol made the most of his time inside, posting his most efficient line of the season: 10 points on 3-of-4 field-goal shooting and 4 of 5 free throws, along with four rebounds and an assist in 13 minutes.
Chol said he simply “just wanted to play hard,” but said he’s been improving in practices that are often more difficult than some games were last season.
“I’m feeling comfortable,” Chol said. “I’m playing with McDonalds all Americans and getting better.”
Miller is happy to see it.
“He’s one of the greatest kids I’ve ever been around,” Miller said. “From a character perspective, if he was babysitting your kids, you’d say `my kids are in great hands.’ “
Chol hit 67.9 percent of his free throws last season and was 0 for 2 this season before making 4 of 5 on Wednesday.
“No one on our team shot more free throws since April than Angelo,” Miller said. “Tonight, going 4 for 5, even his miss looked like he was a different guy. That’s why I like to play him -- he, more than anyone, can benefit from just being out there and we need him. We need him to impact what we’re doing.”
After blocking 5 NAU shots Wednesday, Arizona is now outblocking its first four opponents 21-8.
Last season, UA averaged 3.5 blocks per game but opponents averaged 3.1. In Pac-12 games, opponents had more blocks (68) than the Wildcats (62).
That fact is not lost on Miller.
“I wish you could almost take a picture a year ago of some of the shots that would be taken by our opponent at a very successful rate because we were at the same position but much smaller,” Miller said. “We want to keep it going but anchor it with better transition defense so we don’t have holes and threes are wide open.”
Miller said the upsets around the conference and nation helped keep the Wildcats focused in a game when they were never challenged.
“No question,” he said. “College basketball has become a different sport almost. There is so much parity. Ten years ago, if Butler beat North Carolina, it would have been a national story. If Butler beats North Carolina on a neutral court right now, I think everybody acknowledges that Butler is pretty good. We could name 100 schools that are pretty good right now. So when you play in November and December, anything can happen, especially the way the three-point line is.”
“What we’ve talked about is our own identity. Who are we? We’re a team that’s all-in. We sacrifice. We’re a team that plays hard and takes pride in playing hard and we’re a team that should be able to pound you on the glass with our size and depth and that’s our identity.
“That’s what we want to hold ourselves to and when we don’t, that’s certainly a problem. For our team to get to where we want to get to, we have goals. We feel like we have a chance to be good but it’s not about the opponent it’s about being ready ourselves. We had a nine-day break, we should be ready. Now we have our first road game for our freshmen and we have to be ready; we know that’s going to be a difficult challenge. I think when you go through your own course that’s when you have a chance to be the best you can be.”
Meanwhile, the Wildcats have had none of the off-court issues as they had last year – with Sidiki Johnson and Josiah Turner running into issues within the first month of the season – and have suffered none of the early season turnover that UCLA has already with the departures of Tyler Lamb and Josh Smith.
“We’re no-nonsense,” Miller said. “We have a team that goes about things on a very consistent manner on a daily basis. Especially as young as we are, we have a core group who wants to win and wants to improve and is about those types of things. We’re not problem-free. I know as the season marches on, certainly we’re sharing a lot of minutes and I know a lot of guys would like to play more but everybody has to sacrifice to do some special things and I’m proud of our chemistry to this point.”
In other words, there’s still time for things to develop, and for players to get grumpy over bench time --- but the Wildcats appear pretty together at this point
“I like to think we have a great group of guys,” Nick Johnson said. “Knock on wood but we haven’t gotten into anything and I don’t forsee anything coming out.”
Here's the official box score.