Pac-12 Tournament: Brandon Ashley wins Most Outstanding Player award
LAS VEGAS -- Brandon Ashley elevated and dunked with two hands, then swung on the rim for a beat longer than Arizona coach Sean Miller probably preferred.
No technical foul for taunting was issued, which was fitting. The junior forward earned the right to add an exclamation point on an impressive three days in the Sin City.
[Related highlights: Arizona powers past Oregon in final]
After scoring a game-high 20 points and pulling down five rebounds in the Wildcats' 80-52 win over Oregon in Saturday night's Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament final at MGM Grand Garden Arena, Ashley was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
He averaged 19.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in three games en route to Arizona's first conference tournament title since 2002 and its fifth in school history.
[Related photos: Arizona celebrates]
"[Ashley] winning the MVP is right for so many reasons on so many levels," Miller said. "For him to rise like he did in this tournament and the last few weeks heading into the tournament -- it's a great sign for our team."
Saturday, Ashley went 6-of-8 from the field and knocked down 8-of-10 free throws. He helped the Wildcats dominate inside, as Arizona out-rebounded Oregon 37-20 and finished with a 36-18 advantage in points in the paint. The Wildcats converted 13 second-chance points to Oregon's 3.
"When we rebound well, we seem to play really well," Ashley said afterward, with the MGM Grand Garden Arena's net draped around his neck. "It kind of takes over everything else for the rest of the game. It makes it easier for us to maintain control."
After Friday night's 70-64 win over UCLA in the semifinals, in which Ashley scored a career-high 24 points, Miller said the 6-foot-9, 230-pound Bay Area native has played his best basketball over the past month.
Now he has the trophy to prove it.
Ashley is the first Arizona player to win the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award since Salim Stoudamire did it in 2005. Saturday was the 26th time this season Ashley scored in double figures, a mark he's met in 14 of Arizona's past 17 games.
Ashley said he is finally fully recovered, both mentally and physically, after his 2013-2014 season ended when he tore a ligament in his right foot and needed surgery. That meant he didn't get to play in last year's Pac-12 Tournament or NCAA Tournament.
"We were a man short last year with Brandon going down," Miller said. "Can you imagine Brandon playing like this on last year's team, what we could have done? Nobody knows that more than him."
According to Miller, Ashley didn't start playing basketball again until late-August/early-September. The recovery process, Ashley admitted, has had its ups and downs.
But the former McDonald's All-America selection agreed with his coaches' assertion that he's now playing his basketball and said that he feels 100 percent healthy.
"In all honesty, I think it's just me being patient, my teammates also being patient, my coaching staff and everybody just sticking with me," Ashley said. "Coming off an injury, it really does take a lot of time to get all the way back to where you want to be."
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