Ashby healed more quickly than anticipated, and played the past two games, including CU's overtime win at Iowa State Saturday. So confident was head coach Ricardo Patton that the Buffs were better that day with Ashby in the post, CU's other two centers — Lamont Arrington and Marcus King-Stockton — didn't get off the pine for the entire game.
While Colorado was 5-2 before Ashby went down with his injury, they were 3-4 with the 6-foot-9 junior center out of the lineup. In three of those losses — to Utah, Oklahoma and Kansas — the Buffs were dominated in the paint by three big men. Utah's Andrew Bogut (25 points), OU's Kevin Bookout (25 points) and Kansas' Wayne Simien (23 points) led their teams to victories over the Buffs.
Head coach Ricardo Patton said Tuesday that Missouri's Kleiza is in that class.
"The kid Kleiza is as good as any post player we'll see this year," Patton said.
The 6-8 Kleiza leads Missouri with 16.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. Patton compared Kleiza to Bookout's strong inside game.
"The difference between the two is Kleiza will step out more and is able to do more out on the perimeter," Patton said.
Ashby will likely match up with Kleiza in tonight's game. Ashby's been back in the CU lineup the past two games, but Monday was the first practice he was able to participate in fully since injuring a tendon in his foot against UMKC on Dec. 21.
Ashby said he's not back to 100 percent, but he played 38 minutes in CU's win at Iowa State, the first Big 12 Conference win for the Buffs this season.
"He asked to come out one time and I waved him off," Patton said. "I told him to tough it out, and he did. He came up big for us. His presence inside makes a difference. He had 13 rebounds on a bad wheel. So we're continuing to give him treatment, and hopefully it'll get better and better."
The 13 rebounds marked the third game Asbhy has pulled down double-digit boards. Sitting on the bench with an injury for nearly a month helped Ashby focus on his role on the CU team.
"It was tough, but since I'm back now, I know what I've got to do — rebound and defend," Asbhy said. "Those are the two most important things on my mind. Scoring – I know scoring is going to come."
Missouri, who features Kleiza and fellow post player Kevin Young, will pose the biggest inside challenge yet for Ashby. He's looking forward to it, but has respect for the Missouri players.
"If there's one thing I'm confident in, it's my ability to defend," Ashby said. "Then again, this is my first time playing in this league. We'll see."