It’s not quite the same as when Cincinnati’s Kenyon Martin broke his leg in the Conference USA tourney and was lost for the NCAA tournament, or even when North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall missed the remainder of the 2012 tourney after suffering a broken wrist in a second-round win. It won’t impact Arizona in the same manner that Robbie Hummel’s torn ACL affected Purdue four years ago.
But Brandon Ashley’s season-ending foot injury, suffered in the opening minutes Saturday night at Cal, could derail the Wildcats' chances of winning the national title this year. Ashley’s numbers were far from gaudy, averaging just 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, but this team had won 21 consecutive games prior to his injury. Ashley was a major reason for Arizona’s effectiveness.
This was a team that had established itself as the top team in the country. It had taken care of three top-20 teams -- San Diego State, Michigan and Duke -- and done so away from the friendly confines of the McKale Center. It had run the table through the month of January with a more challenging schedule than the other two unbeatens, Syracuse and Wichita State.
Arizona had size, experience, quality guard play, leadership, toughness, a pure point guard and one of the elite young coaches in the country. It also had a group of players with established roles.
Now coach Sean Miller will have to make alterations. He’ll insert talented freshman forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson into the starting lineup. Many NBA types believe that Hollis-Jefferson, a long and athletic wing from Philadelphia who reminds some of former NBA lockdown defender Stacey Augmon, may be the best pro prospect on the team. However, Ashley was a critical piece of what made Arizona one of the prohibitive favorites to clip the nets in Arlington, Texas come April. Without him, this team just isn’t the same.
Here are the major concerns with Arizona post-Ashley injury