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February 6, 2014

No. 2 Arizona looks to move on from loss, Ashley injury

Thursday will provide a handful of firsts for Arizona, now ranked second in the country.

The Wildcats (21-1, 8-1 Pac-12 Conference) will play their first game after eight consecutive weeks at No. 1. For the first time, the nation will get to see how Sean Miller's group responds to a loss. Then, and the much bigger story, UA will play its first contest since the season-ending foot injury to sophomore forward and third-leading scorer Brandon Ashley.

Tipoff against Oregon (15-6, 3-6 Pac-12), which had a rocky first half of league play, is scheduled for 7 p.m. at McKale Center.

"It sucks, but we're going to have to move on," Wildcats point guard T.J. McConnell said. "Guys are going to have to step up. People are going to have to play more minutes.

"We feel bad for Brandon, but as a team we've got to move on and get ready for Oregon."

Among those players who will see more action is sixth man Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who will now move into the starting lineup for the remainder of the season, Miller said. The freshman is averaging 8.0 points and 5.4 rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game.

The move will make Gabe York the lone regular reserve. Arizona will look to expand its rotation - how much remains to be seen - and work in some combination of Matt Korcheck, Elliott Pitts and Jordin Mayes, depending on the situation and how practices play out.

"Gabe's playing about 18 minutes a game in the Pac-12," Miller said. "But he's been a real key contributor from Game 1. Rondae and him alone, playing more minutes, is part of what we're going to do.

"But I think we're going to need an extra player to be available and ready to contribute that maybe we didn't need with Brandon healthy."

The Wildcats, who dropped a 60-58 decision on a last-second shot last Saturday at California, will also look to break out of a shooting funk. UA shot just 32.3 percent from the field against the Bears.

Over the last three games, Arizona is shooting a combined 36 percent. Leading scorer Nick Johnson missed 13 of 14 attempts at Cal.

"We haven't made as many (shots) recently, that's for sure," Miller said. "Cal was our worst offensive performance of the year."

The Ducks are still working through their own rough patch. Winners of two of its last three, Oregon lost five in a row prior to the recent stretch.

The Ducks started the season 13-0 and were ranked as high as fourth while working in a roster heavy on transfers - including first- and second-leading scorers Joseph Young (18.1 points) and Mike Moser (13 points).

The problem, however, has been on the defensive end where opponents are averaging 75.4 points

Head coach Dana Altman said his team has started to make adjustments in its halfcourt defense, mixing in a press to make up for its lack of size. But even the downsized Wildcats will present challenges in the frontcourt.

"They have big, large athletes that are quick," Altman said. "But they just don't make many mistakes. When they do make mistakes, their athleticism and size has been able to cover it up."

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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