SAN DIEGO — Arizona sophomore Brandon Ashley sat in the corner of the locker room Thursday and comfortably said he’d be back by June.
Exactly what "back" means remains to be determined, but Ashley expressed optimism while speaking to the local media for the first time since his foot injury six weeks ago. He said that he had successful surgery on his right foot and that there will be no need for more surgery. He declined to get into the specifics of the injury but noted that he has been told that "the injury wasn’t as bad as expected."
Ashley, a 6-foot-8 forward, has been on crutches most of the time since the injury, which he suffered two minutes into Arizona’s first loss at California on Feb. 1. He’s wearing an extra-large boot.
"I never expected it to be anything career threatening or anything long term," he said.
At the time, Arizona was rolling at 21-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country. Since the injury, the Wildcats have gone 9-4.
Ashley said "it’s been tough" not being part of it "but they’ve been doing well. It’s exciting to see. It’s been hard and fun at the same time."
The Wildcats have started playing more of a perimeter game, going deeper into the lineup and trying to generate more opportunities in transition. Freshman Aaron Gordon has been moved to the power forward spot while sophomore guard Gabe York has slid into the starting lineup.
"It’s expanded everyone’s roles on the team," center Kaleb Tarczewski said. "We’ve all had to step up a little bit and play better basketball. Everyone on our team has embraced the new roles. It’s nice to be able to do some things that we wouldn’t normally be able to do."
Ashley said he’s like what he’s seen as Arizona, particularly with Gordon and freshman wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson playing around the basket more.
"Those dudes can get more rebounds, and although I could start the (fast) break, I didn’t necessarily do that," he said. "They can do that. I think that makes us a more aggressive team offensively. We can use our defensive ability to get offensive looks."
Despite the injury, Ashley, who was averaging 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds, has spent most games on the sidelines with th team.
"You spend so much time with these guys, you love them (and) every loss that they had hurt me," he said.
Arizona guard Nick Johnson appears on the cover of the most recent Sports Illustrated. This week’s issue is split regionally, with six covers devoted to various regions. In the shot, which was taken at McKale Center two weeks ago, Johnson is surrounded by Arizona students.
"I saw it," Johnson said. "Who wouldn’t want to be on the cover of SI? It’s a dream come true, definitely."
In one of the bigger upsets Thursday, Archie Miller, Sean’s younger brother and the top assistant at Arizona three years ago, led 11th-seeded Dayton to a 60-59 win over sixth-seeded Ohio State. Last year, Arizona lost to Ohio State in the Sweet 16.
"My brother had a great victory over Ohio State. Congratulations to Dayton and him," Miller said. "It’s remarkable to see him win today, great for my family."
Johnson said he texted Archie on Sunday and told him "to go get some Buckeye. … Arch was my main contact when they were recruiting me."
A No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. It’s a point the media brings up more than any coach wants to hear. But does Miller talk about it to his players?
"You don’t want to talk about the fact that that’s never happened, you know?" Miller said. "It’s not in your — there’s nothing good that’s going to come out of that conversation. Everybody in our locker room knows the history of the NCAA tournament."
Weber State center Kyle Tresnak, a Scottsdale native, said he grew up watching Arizona games. He also knows Johnson, and he attended former Arizona coach Lute Olson’s elite camp a few years ago.
"Everyone chose U of A or ASU, so I followed (the Wildcats)," Tresnak said. "I said I was going to go down there and play for Lute Olson because he was my hero and all that. When we finally made it to the tournament, we get to play them.