When Arizona center Chase Jeter hobbled around with an acutely stiff back during practice on Monday, coach Sean Miller wasn’t there to see it.
Miller was sacked at home, so sick that for a change he couldn’t even direct his team.
“First time in maybe 27 years,” he said.
As if those maladies weren’t enough, the Wildcats also left town Wednesday afternoon to face something that has often been, well, downright nauseous for them: a trip to Los Angeles.
The Wildcats are 6-8 in Los Angeles for conference games during the Miller era — and that record doesn’t include two Elite Eight losses in SoCal against a certain team from the Midwest, nor a 2016-17 Staples Center loss to Gonzaga.
This time, the UA will have to face a USC team that may finally be going somewhere. The Trojans beat rival UCLA 80-67 last week after an underwhelming nonconference season and two losses in Oregon. Then the Wildcats will have to enter Pauley Pavilion on Saturday to face a UCLA team that has shown signs of rejuvenation under interim head coach Murry Bartow.
“It’s a very difficult trip, no matter who you’re bringing to town,” Miller said.
The Wildcats are expected to bring along Jeter, but the big junior appears questionable to play Thursday. He missed practices Monday and Tuesday, and did only limited work on Wednesday.
Miller said X-rays on Jeter’s back came back negative — Jeter suffered a disk injury that hampered his sophomore season at Duke in 2016-17 — but declined to estimate Jeter’s odds of playing this weekend.
Jeter might be limited if he tried to play at all, unless he makes major improvement over the 24 hours before Thursday’s game.
“I would categorize Chase as he’s making progress,” Miller said. “When you have a lower back injury, there’s stiffness that’s just overwhelming. It affects your movement and it strips you of your confidence to some degree. Because every time that you turn and land, or get ready to jump, you really think about it.
“He’s feeling better. It’s not as if he’s feeling worse. … But I can’t really predict how ready he’ll be for tomorrow’s game and how ready or available he’ll be for Saturday.”
Miller said he hoped that Jeter would continue to progress in the next few days, and was confident that Jeter would feel much better in a week. Jeter suffered the injury on Saturday, when he took a hard fall against Oregon State and experienced back spasms afterward.
Despite the pain, though, Jeter made a difference in practices this week, the way co-captain Justin Coleman described it.
“Chase is one of our leaders,” Coleman said. “He hasn’t practiced the last couple of days but he’s been very vocal. He’s been in huddles. He’s been in plays where we do different segments. He’s also been helping out Jake (DesJardins) in practice with different things.”
The Wildcats may need to call again on DesJardins, the one-time walk-on forward from Southern Nevada who was given a scholarship this season. DesJardins played one possession against Oregon State, and could help out again in a pinch if Jeter is unable to go.
Otherwise, the Wildcats will lean heavily on Ira Lee and Ryan Luther, their two remaining big men, while continuing to shift Dylan Smith often to power forward.
The Trojans will counter with 6-foot-10-inch Bennie Boatwright, a prototypical stretch-four who can shoot over smaller guys on the perimeter and mix it up inside.
Then there’s center Nick Rakocevic, who won Pac-12 Player of the Week honors after he dropped 21 points and 12 rebounds on UCLA in just 28 minutes.
“He and Boatwright have a great relationship on the court,” Miller said. “They look after each other, they can play off what each other does well and it’s a heck of a 1-2 punch. They can combine for, like, 50 a game. Two people. So what production they get against our team will be a big indicator of how we did.”
Miller missed Monday’s practice but said the Wildcats managed to keep pace with their preparation.
Sophomore Brandon Randolph said it helped that everyone kept up the spirit of things without Miller.
“I know Coach was sick and we knew we had to bring the energy, especially for him,” Randolph said. “We didn’t hear his voice, but we still brought that energy, we still brought that intensity to practice and I think we still got better.”
Maybe by the time Thursday’s game tips off at the Galen Center, everything will be back to normal. That is, provided the bug doesn’t move on from Arizona’s coaches to players.
Miller and two staffers have been affected. But so far, Miller said, only walk-on Matt Weyand has fallen ill.
“He had it a little bit,” Miller said. “Hopefully those (other) guys can stay healthy.”
Source: “Los Angeles” – Google News