The face of the Wildcats current freshman class is 6’8” forward Brandon Ashley. He came to Tucson having the Arizona faithful excited about his long frame, his ability to score and rebound. While Ashley has had trouble at times in his first season to be consistent in those areas, he is growing and improving in others.
Those area’s are on the defensive side of the ball. Because of that Ashley is growing as an all-around player.
“Earlier in the season I was more focused on how many points or rebounds I was getting and not necessarily stopping the person I was guarding,” said Ashley. “Changing my perspective and focusing more on defense I think definitely helped me out a lot.”
“Brandon Ashley for example played a huge role for us on defense but it was sort of a silent role,” explained head coach Sean Miller. “He was in the right place more times than he wasn’t and he executed and worked really hard. He was determined…That made our defense better. Just one guy. And that’s how it works.”
That hard work and dedication on the defensive side of the ball was scene to the highest degree yet from Ashley against rival Arizona State last weekend. Ashley’s scoring and rebounding numbers didn’t jump off the page, but he was one of the top performers on the team defensively which was crucial to the Wildcats getting the big road win.
Coach Miller singled him out in the locker room after the game in Tempe, telling him that was his best defensive performance yet and now “he let the cat out of the bag” and has to live up to it every game.
“Honestly I just think I was feeding off of my teammates energy,” explained Ashley. “I just wanted to make sure that my first rivalry game against Arizona State was a good one.”
“As a young guy like Brandon is he wants to play good but he has to be good on the defensive end and he is capable of doing it,” said Arizona senior forward Kevin Parrom. “He proved it in the Arizona State game. I think he surprised everybody.”
The Wildcats under Sean Miller pride themselves on the defensive side of the ball. They have struggled defending the three this season but overall, the team is a much improved defensive team. For freshman coming into this level play, you are used to being able to dominate offensively and let your athleticism do the work defensively in high school. But it is a different animal at the next level. And now Brandon Ashley has bought in to that notion which can be big for the Wildcats for the rest of conference play and then some.
“When you have success and you see it visibly by working hard, you want to keep doing it,” mentioned Miller. “And I think that’s where our team is. At least that where I hope we are moving into this weekend with our defensive mindset.”
Ashley got his first taste of the rivalry with Arizona State last week. He now gets his first taste of the energy that comes with playing conference rival UCLA as well as the Wildcats and Bruins face off on Thursday. The game will be the annual white out at McKale Center in Tucson.