No. 1 Arizona lost much more than its first game of the season Saturday night at Cal. Starting forward Brandon Ashley will miss the rest of the season after suffering a foot injury two minutes into the Wildcats’ two-point loss to the Bears, the school announced in a release.
Ashley suffered the injury when he landed awkwardly after missing a shot. He returned to the bench later wearing a protective boot and was seen after the game leaving the locker room on crutches.
Ashley was a vital component of Arizona’s frontline, whose versatility allowed coach Sean Miller to use different lineups. Without him, expect Arizona to lean more heavily on freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who scored 10 points in 31 minutes Saturday night, and sophomore Kaleb Tarczewski, who scored a career-high 18 points in 35 minutes. Miller could also explore using a small lineup that includes Johnson and guards T.J. McConnell and Gabe York.
Miller said on his radio show Saturday night that he feared Ashley would miss the rest of the season. He addressed questions about how the Wildcats might adjust without the 6-foot-8 forward.
"Maybe a three-guard lineup, that's something we have to look at," Miller said Saturday. "But the other thing is Rondae has played 23 minutes a game; he's capable. Gabe York has played around 18, and he's certainly capable. Kaleb played more tonight and that's going to be part of it, too. No one on our team has played more than 32 minutes, 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.
“We have a lot of different guys who wanted more of an opportunity. 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 told ESPN.com that junior forward Matt Korchek, who is averaging 1.2 points in 4.5 minutes and has played just one minute over the past four games, will likely receive more playing time.
Ashley was averaging 11.5 points and 5.8 assists in 27.7 minutes per game. His 113.3 offensive rating ranked second among Wildcats who use at least 20 percent of available possessions and his effective (55.3) and true shooting percentages (59.4) ranked first.
Despite Saturday’s loss, the Wildcats still hold a two-game lead over Cal and UCLA for first place in the Pac-12 standings. Their claim to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament seems safe, but Ashley’s absence casts some doubt on whether Arizona should still be considered the frontrunner to win the national championship. The Wildcats host Oregon and Oregon State this week, then play three consecutive road games against Arizona State, Utah and Colorado.