Utah Men, Women’s Basketball Battling Injuries To Finish Out Regular Season
SALT LAKE CITY – Both the Utah men’s and women’s basketball teams are battling some injuries as they head into the final stretch of the regular season.
The Runnin’ Utes have already gone a few weeks without Gabe Madsen but are now facing not having Rollie Worster available as well after sustaining an injury late against Arizona State over the weekend.
For the Utah women, Alissa Pili’s availability is now in question after suffering an ankle sprain against Arizona last Friday.
While in an ideal world, no coach ever wants to have to figure out how to move forward without star players available, the good news for both Utes teams is that other athletes have stepped up in big ways for each team respectively.
Utah Basketball Without Madsen, Worster
Runnin’ Utes head coach Craig Smith isn’t expecting either Madsen or Worster to be available in Utah’s double-headers with the women on Thursday or Saturday. With regard to Worster’s injury, Smith hinted there may be a long-shot chance he could be good by the weekend, but that Utah isn’t counting on it.
“He got in with our trainer Trevor Jameson on Monday,” Smith said. “I mean, he’s had this before so he’s very diligent in his recoveries with a lower leg injury. Nothing structural. We’ll see. We did a light practice yesterday and he didn’t do anything. I would be surprised if he plays, I’ll just put it that way. Not saying something couldn’t change. Those things can change pretty rapidly sometimes, but we aren’t holding our breath.”
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The Utes are now faced with the reality of not having two of their best players out on the court. Smith was very candid about how there is a fine balance at this point in the season of staying true to your on-court identity and reinventing to fit the players you have available.
“I wouldn’t anticipate either one of those guys playing this week,” Smith said. “It changes things. It’s a fine line of reinventing yourself in game 29 and then just figuring out who can fulfill what roles. Everything is in play right now. Everybody is in play.”
While the conditions aren’t ideal, Smith has been pleased with the progression two of his younger players have made now that they are receiving more minutes with the injuries. Freshmen Keba Keita and Wilguens Jr. Exacte have both stepped up in different ways through Madsen and now Worster’s absence while starting to become difference makers in their own right.
“I thought Keba was really good against Arizona State, but he had some foul issues getting this fourth foul after playing for about a minute and half in the second half,” Smith said. “He did some great things and then Wil was really good, played great against Arizona and played very well against Arizona State as well. I think you just get to that point where you start figuring things out, you get confidence like, ‘oh, I got this.’ The game slows down a little bit and hopefully that trend will continue as we move forward because we need them both.
Questions About The Utah Women, Alissa Pili
For Utah women’s basketball, it’s a matter of if Alissa Pili will be ready to go. Head coach Lynne Roberts was unsure of where things will ultimately stand with Pili come Thursday and Saturday, but it seemed as if there is a little more optimism she could be ready than with the men’s side.
“Hopefully she can go,” Roberts said. “We’re unsure yet. She has not been cleared. She has a sprained ankle and we tried to get her into some shooting today but was sore. Don’t know. Hopefully she can play, but it’s one of those ‘hope for the best, prepare for the worst.'”
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As always, injuries are never what you want to deal with, but for the Utes there may have been a big silver lining to Pili not being available. Forward Peyton McFarland was a big key for Utah in their late-season run last year, but unfortunately suffered an ACL injury that has kept her out much of this season. McFarland returned to play with Pili out and put up a good performance that coach Roberts was glowing about.
“Peyton has had a tough return to play from her ACL,” Roberts said. “You come back from an ACL and it’s a tough grind physically and then when you are quote on quote cleared to play, it’s just a tough grind mentally. There are a lot of stages with it. You’re not sure you’re safe on it and then when you are finally getting physically to where you know the knee is fine and you’re not going to hurt it, you aren’t confident. She did all of that at the beginning of Pac-12 season so jumping in when the car is already full speed ahead is really hard. She’s done a nice job and we don’t beat ASU on Sunday without her.”
Roberts noted how important it is to have players like McFarland ready to go on a whim come late-season and post-season. Nobody feels sorry you’re dealing with injuries, but a deep bench helps negate that from ever being a problem.
“As we head down the stretch playing games back-to-back or whatever, we aren’t unique that we’re all banged up and tired, but it does become load management and injury management,” Roberts said. “To have somebody like that, 6’4″ and athletic with experience to be able to go in, that’s a luxury. I’m proud of her and made her a little highlight video of all of her buckets from last year and sent it to her over the weekend to remind her of what she is capable of. It was fun and rewarding as a coach- that’s the good stuff when you see a kid battle back and stick with it, stay engaged.”
Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @BodkinKSLsports
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