Arizona is the #1 team in the country this season in large part because of the play from sophomore forward Brandon Ashley. With two big performances against New Mexico State and Michigan, Ashley has been named NetScouts Basketball’s National Player of the Week for games ending on December 15, 2013.
Ashley had 15 points and six rebounds on 5-of-7 shooting and a perfect 3-of-3 mark from three-point range against New Mexico State on Wednesday. He followed it with 18 points and another six rebounds on 8-of-16 shooting in a come-from-behind road win over Michigan.
The pair of victories allowed the Wildcats to remain the top-ranked team in the country. Ashley has seen a big improvement from his freshman to sophomore season, primarily because of the addition of a consistent jumper from three-point range to compliment his low post game.
“One of things that’s interesting about our offense is that Brandon is, by far, the most efficient player we have,” Arizona coach Sean Miller recently said in an article by Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports. “His field goal percentage is right around 60 and when we get the ball to him around the basket, a lot of good things are happening. To me, our offense and his teammates flow so much better when he’s in a consistent pattern offensively. Where he’s at right now, it’s to our advantage to try to put him into scoring position even more moving forward. He’s diverse in his approach. He’s driving the ball, getting fouled, he’s knocked down a few threes.”
Ashley’s draft stock has climbed as a result. The 6-foot-8 forward is averaging 12.8 points and 6.5 rebounds this season with a 59 per cent field goal percentage. Perhaps the most impressive stat is his 54 per cent clip from three-point range that allows him to stretch the floor. His versatility allows him to bring a bigger defender out to the perimeter where he can attack off the dribble or knock down the jumper. When Ashley faces a smaller defender, he can dominate in the post and finish at or above the rim.
His athleticism has allowed Ashley to perform well defensively at this level, but he projects as a small forward which can be a cause for concern. Ashley has been a good shot blocker down low but his ability to defend on the perimeter will be a question. He could be a fringe first rounder due to his length, athleticism, versatility, and improving jump shot.
With Arizona at the top of the polls, the Wildcats will have a target on their back throughout the season. Ashley had two crucial performances this week as Arizona remained undefeated.
Cameron Schott is a Correspondent for NetScouts Basketball.