Arizona’s Ashley brings versatility to UA’s win

TUCSON — The Arizona men’s basketball team has about six pretty good shooters from the perimeter.

Six-foot-8 Brandon Ashley isn’t one of them.

That’s according to, well, the head coach Sean Miller.

In no particular order Miller mentioned Grant Jerrett, Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom, Mark Lyons and Gabe York.

It’s a team wealthy with shooters.

“We have five or six and I’m not sure one is clearly better than the others,” Miller said after No. 10 Arizona defeated visiting Long Beach State 94-72 on Monday night in McKale Center.

What about Ashley, who went 6-for-6 from the floor and finished with a game-high 20 points?

“He’s not one of the six best shooters,” said Miller, who brought laughter to room. “There’s no question about that.”

Maybe he can eventually crack the top six. Games like Monday night will help. Ashley, a former McDonald’s All-American, hit all six shots and went 8-for-9 from the free throw line to get his 20 points. He added 10 rebounds for UA’s first double-double of the young season.

“You don’t want to go into the game and force anything,” Ashley said.

“My teammates were looking for me and they put me in a great position to score. With that happening, I didn’t feel the need to force up any shots.”

Ashley scored Arizona’s first seven points and looked like a cagey veteran. Or at least more mature for being just a freshman. His most surprising points on a 17-foot jumper to give UA a 5-0 lead. The rest he used in moves near the basket or the free throw line.

He said he came out energized. After all, it was his first start of his career. Miller said Ashley has deserved it.

“He’s learning how to practice harder,” Miller said. “He’s a much more consistent everyday player. He works harder than he ever has. He’s very responsible and very bright.

Now, he has started to take over our practices. Two days ago he had a practice very similar how he played in tonight’s game.”

What’s clear is he’s learning and applying it in games.

“He’s been patient,” said Solomon Hill, in evaluating Ashley. “When he gets in the key it’s hard to stop him. He’s got that length to get the ball back up. Brandon is going to have the opportunity to put a lot of guys into foul trouble. If he continues to stay with it his numbers will be able to rise.”

Much like Hill’s have through the years. Hill’s 15 points moved him to

1,001 points for his career, becoming the 47th UA player to score more than 1,000 for a career.

“I’ve been here long enough. I’d hope I’d get 1,000 points,” Hill said. “I don’t think that means anything.”

In time it might. For now, it’s helped Arizona moved to 3-0 on the day Arizona moved from No. 12 to No. 10 in the poll.

“I think Arizona has the ingredients to be a very good team next month,” said Long Beach State coach Dan Monson. “They keep improving, they shoot the ball well, have great length, good size and good guards. They have all the components they need to keep coming together and really make an impact.”

What type of impact will be determined later. But by estimation, this is likely the most athletic team Arizona has had since 2003 when it was a No. 1 seed behind guys like Andre Iguodala, Hassan Adams, Channing Frye, Luke Walton and Salim Stoudamire.

This team is deeper, but has no shooter like Stoudamire. Already, Miller has compared this team favorably on a number of occasions to the 2011 UA team that made a deep run in the NCAA tournament. If this team can learn and improve with each game and each week, it could see some pretty good results.

It’ll be helped by the continued success and progress of Ashley, who said he can hit a 3-pointer “if necessary.” Even the self-proclaimed shooter on the team, Kevin Parrom said Ashley can hit them.

“He does it in practice and it kind of pisses you off,” said Hill of Ashley’s ability to hit the 3-pointer. “He can hit a game-changing three in practice. It’s a confidence thing. His shot is there. Right now he’s focusing on doing other things for the team.”

Hill said won’t be surprised if Ashley hits a few threes down the road, but right now he’s “staying in the process and what he’s doing is working for us.”

Miller likes what he sees.

“Brandon is a basketball player,” Miller said. “He’s a four (forward who might be more of small forward). That position will eventually work itself out. He just continues to get better every day at the things that he does as a player. Whether he’s at the (small forward) or (big forward) we want him to be a great offensive rebounder.

Tonight he was. We want him to pass the ball on the perimeter; be clever on the perimeter; drive in a straight line.”

Monday night he did all that and more. And even became one of the team’s best shooters — if only for a night.