When Washington’s starting point guard Abdul Gaddy went down Jan. 3 with a season-ending knee injury, most Pac-10 observers wondered if this would slow down the Husky machine. Would it make the conference title chase more competitive? Would it jeopardize Washington’s post-season aspirations?
Those are still open questions. But the program has been fortunate that a player with the talent of junior guard Isaiah Thomas steadied the transition. He stepped up his game Pac-10 Player of the Week for two of the past three weeks and made players such as seniors Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Justin Holiday even better.
Just about every team has had to deal with lost floor time due to player injuries, suspension or transfers, including the rare mid-season bolting of a pair of players.
Last Monday, USC, already with a thin bench, lost 6-foot-5 freshman guard Bryce Jones when he announced that he was transferring. Jones started 10 games and averaged 7.6 points but his playing time had been reduced with the transfer in of guard Jio Fontan.
Donte (Smith) and Garrett (Jackson) will get more minutes,” USC Coach Kevin O’Neill said. They’re taking up the slack.”
But there wasn’t much slack to begin with. This brings O’Neill’s rotation down from eight to seven. Sophomore forward Evan Smith had season-ending shoulder surgery last month.
Also, according to a story in the L.A. Times, it appears that if Jones had not transferred, he would have been kick off the team. Jones had a series of off-court problems.
We knew going in this (short bench) was the way it was going to be. It’s just something we deal with,” O’Neill said. We don’t talk about it, we just play the game. We’ve had some late letdowns defensively that have hurt us. We haven’t been as sharp as we needed to. I don’t know if it’s fatigue — just maybe a lack of concentration. They get tired toward the end.”
That perhaps helped Washington gut out its 73-67 victory Dec. 29 over the Trojans in the Pac-10 opener. The Huskies were stronger down the stretch and much better in overtime for the victory.
I’ve had that (short-handed) situation in the past. It’s no fun,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said during the Pac-10 Conference call Tuesday. You play in games as you practice and if you are not able to practice it makes it much more difficult. We’re experiencing that this week as both Reeves Nelson and Josh Smith did not practice. That really hurts.”
Smith, the Bruins freshman center from Kentwood High, sprained his ankle six minutes into the Cal game last Thursday and did not return. He then missed Saturday’s Stanford game and is uncertain for Thursday’s game against Arizona. That’s a big loss if he’s not available.
It’s definitely a disadvantage with guys you have who are sick or hurt and miss a lot of practice,” Howland added. It hurts the team in terms of timing and execution.”
You don’t have to tell that to Cal coach Mike Montgomery. Like USC, he also lost a critical point guard Jan. 5 when freshman Gary Franklin decided he would transfer to Baylor. Franklin had been averaging 26 minutes a game yet was not handling the ball as much as he wanted. Just like that, he was gone, leaving the team in the lurch.
The Bears now have an 11-man roster but probably just a seven-man rotation. They’re also going to have to gut it out the rest of the way. It’s not like they can sign a guy to a 10-day contract.
My thing has always been you practice, you get through a lot of things, you’re very thorough, but when you don’t have a lot of players you have to be careful how much time you have on the floor because you can run your guys into the ground,” Montgomery said.
You’ve got to lose something in the translation. On the other hand, people might say guys stay fresh because you don’t beat them up as much,” he said. When there are not enough players, conditioning becomes an issue.”
This is also not like an 82-game NBA schedule where guys can lose two or three weeks with an injury and still have time to make significant contributions. There are only 18 conference games. When a key player is dinged up and his team loses because of that, it’s missed opportunities that you don’t get back.
Oregon lost senior forward Joevan Catron to a calf injury for a couple games. The Ducks managed to beat USC in one of them, the opener of Matthew Knight Arena, then lost to UCLA two days later.
Offensively, it kind of starts with him and the other guys play off of him a little bit,” Oregon Coach Dana Altman said. He’s a big part of what we want to do on the offensive end.”
Catron returned for the Oregon State game last Saturday but Altman said, he didn’t play as well as he had been playing. He played well in the first half but to be honest, I think he just got a little tired in the second half after being out a couple weeks.”
Oregon went on to win the game, 63-59.
Arizona State has had critical injuries to senior point guard Jamelle McMillan (groin), who missed three games, and sophomore guard Trent Lockett (toe), who missed two. The last-place Sun Devils (9-10, 1-6) haven’t found any consistency.
Washington State, the Huskies’ opponent Sunday night in Pullman, has had a number of personnel issues. Five players transferred before the season began. Then sophomore point guard Reggie Moore missed two early-season games with a wrist injury and was suspended for one game for an off-court incident. Junior guard Faisal Aden also has an on-going knee issue.
So it’s not just misfortune for Gaddy and the Huskies. Just about every team has dealt with injuries or unexpected transfers. Then it becomes a matter of response. Let the record show that Washington at 15-4 overall and 7-1 – its best conference start since 1987 also leads in the recovery process.