Even Arizona coach Sean Miller has wondered how last season would have ended had Brandon Ashley been healthy for the finish. Now Miller is eager to see how this season ends with him.
Ashley was voted the Pac-12 tournament’s most outstanding player as Arizona thrashed Oregon by a margin of 28 points for the conference’s postseason championship.
Peaking at just the right time, Ashley and the Wildcats head into the NCAA Tournament as a second seed in the West for Thursday’s opener against No. 15 Texas Southern in Portland, Oregon.
The 6-foot-9 junior forward was out with a foot injury last season when the Wildcats worked through the NCAA Tournament with wins over Weber State, Gonzaga, and San Diego State before falling to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight. Gone from that team are Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson.
[quote_box_center]”We were a man short last year with Brandon going down. If can you imagine Brandon playing like this on last year’s team, what we could have done. Nobody knows that more than him,” Miller said. ”But that’s last year. We’re healthy this year, and some of the things that we know we’re very good at, we have to be ourselves and take them into this tournament this week.”[/quote_box_center]
The Wildcats (31-3) have won 11 straight games going into the game, including victories over California, UCLA and finally Oregon in the conference championship.
Ashley ranks second on the team in points with an average of 12.3. He’s also averaging 5.4 rebounds. But in the three Pac-12 tournament games, he averaged 19.6 points and 6.3 rebounds.
”Coming off an injury, it really does take a lot of time to get all the way back to where you want to be,” Ashley said. ”So I feel like at this point I am confident. I do feel a hundred percent healthy, and my teammates and my coaching staff have a huge part in that.”
Texas Southern (22-12) earned a spot in the tournament by winning the Southwestern Athletic Conference final 62-58 against Southern. It was the Tigers’ second straight league tournament title, last season the team fell to Cal-Poly in its NCAA Tournament opener.
The two teams have never met. The victor will go on to meet the winner of Thursday’s other West region game between seventh seed VCU and 10th seed Ohio State.
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