Front court progress didn’t go as planned

Arizona+center+Kaleb+Tarczewski+%2835%29%2C+center%2C+and+Arizona+forward+Brandon+Ashley+%2821%29%2C+right%2C+huddle+with+teammates+toward+the+end+of+a+timeout+during+Arizonas+85-78+loss+to+Wisconsin+at+the+Staples+Center+in+Los+Angeles+on+Saturday.+Despite+being+five-star+recruits%2C+Tarczewski+and+Ashley+have+progressed+as+they+maybe+should+have.

Rebecca Noble

Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski (35), center, and Arizona forward Brandon Ashley (21), right, huddle with teammates toward the end of a timeout during Arizona’s 85-78 loss to Wisconsin at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Saturday. Despite being five-star recruits, Tarczewski and Ashley have progressed as they maybe should have.

Ezra Amacher

Arizona’s fears were already coming true less than two minutes into the Elite Eight rematch with Wisconsin. The Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky could be contained, but he could not be stopped. History would repeat itself.

Arizona had an entire season to prepare for one game, for one player, and in crunch time, it didn’t matter.

With another year under his belt, Wildcat center Kaleb Tarczewski still lacked the agility to follow Kaminsky out to the perimeter. While Tarczewski could hold his own in the paint, Kaminsky still had the advantage with his superior athleticism and refined post moves.

And despite Brandon Ashley’s presence, it quickly became clear the power forward lacked the strength or size to blockade Kaminsky from driving to the basket.

It took exactly 1:21 for Kaminsky to force Ashley into drawing a second foul, rendering him useless on the bench for most of the first half.

Everyone knows what happened over the next 38:39.

Kaminsky took Arizona’s big men to work for the second year in a row, and with the help of a superb supporting cast, sent the Wildcats home one win short of the Final Four for the second straight season.

Kaminsky’s next stop is the NBA, where he will no longer have the opportunity to torment Arizona fans every March.

It’s possible, even likely, that Tarczewski and Ashley will forgo their senior seasons and join Kaminsky in the NBA. That is, if they get drafted.

According to the latest mock draft from draftexpress.com, Kaminsky is a sure lottery pick. Tarczewski is projected to go No. 57 out of 60, while Ashley isn’t even on the board.

Go back to this time three years ago.

Ashley, a five-star recruit, was preparing to play in the McDonald’s All-American game. Tarczewski, ranked as the No. 4 overall recruit by ESPN in the class of 2012, didn’t get invited to the game but had plenty of accolades to show for.

The pair of big men made up the bulk of a recruiting class ranked among the best in the nation.

Meanwhile, in Madison, Wis., a scrawny 7-footer with a hard-to-pronounce last name was coming off a freshman season in which he averaged 1.8 points per game.

Unlike the guys from Arizona, Kaminsky had only been given four stars as a recruit. His scholarship offers came from programs like Bradley, DePaul and Southern Illinois. Not Kansas, Kentucky and Texas.

When Ashley and Tarczewski arrived in Tucson, so arrived the type of growing pains expected with any young player — the same growing pains Kaminsky surely experienced his freshman season.

As the two high school standouts struggled to score with regularity in college, it became clear they would not fit the one-and-done mold, even when fellow freshman Grant Jerrett decided to leave for the NBA after one season.

Ashley and Tarczewski, like Kaminsky, needed multiple years of college to adapt to a higher level of play and develop physically.

But all players do not progress at the same rate.

Kaminsky transformed from a role player to the Badgers’ go-to guy between his sophomore and junior years. He finally broke through on the national scene last March, when he dropped 28 points and 11 rebounds on the Wildcats.

Tarczewski posted a modest 12 points and four boards in the overtime loss. Ashley, of course, was in the midst of recovering from a season-ending foot injury.

Fast forward from spring to fall, to the start of another season.

Sports Illustrated released its annual college basketball preview as the 2014-2015 campaign kicked off.

One region’s cover featured Brandon Ashley going up for a dunk. Another regional cover displayed Kaminsky in the same act.

Who could have guessed that in a matter of months, those two would be trying to dunk on one another with the Final Four on the line — again?

Kaminsky, Ashley and Tarczewski were all playing some of the best basketball of their careers headed into this season’s NCAA Tournament.

For Kaminsky, that meant maintaining a National Player of the Year level of performance. For the Wildcats’ two juniors, it meant fulfilling their roles, defensively and offensively.

Then, whether by luck or fate, the selection committee determined a bracket that would set up a potential rematch.

Whether Ashley or Tarczewski have underachieved in college, or whether Kaminsky has overachieved, is up for debate. But in the waning moments of the 2014 West Regional, it was Kaminsky who came out ahead of Tarczewski.

In the waning moments of the 2015 West Regional, Kaminsky toppled both Tarczewski and Ashley.

Both times, Kaminsky and his team won the game.

With recruiting rankings, draft positions and All-American accolades all put aside, Kaminsky won the game.

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Follow Ezra Amacher on Twitter.