When Kaleb Tarczewski landed on a Michigan player’s foot last Saturday, that wasn’t the first time he’s significantly sprained his right ankle.
He hurt it in high school and also did so early last summer. The fact that it’s a repeat injury could make it tougher for him to return, though Tarczewski sprained it at probably the best possible time -- with two weaker opponents coming up before a 10-day break between games.
“Sometimes when you hurt your ankle, it has a tendency to happen again,” UA coach Sean Miller said Thursday, after UA beat Southern 69-43. “Some of the swelling he has isn’t (just from) his current injury -- it’s just the lifetime of his injury. But we’re going to take it slow. We want to make sure he’s at his best for the Pac-12. I have my fingers crossed that 7-10 days from now he’s in a much better place but we’re really working hard to get him back.”
Trainer Justin Kokoskie said before Thursday’s game that Tarczewski has been working eight-plus hours a day on the ankle, and will continue to rehab over the Christmas break UA players are taking from Dec. 24-26.
When asked if Tarczewski might play Monday against NAU, Miller said UA is taking it a day at a time, but his comments make it sound doubtful.
While the Wildcats have routinely shifted up their lineup every time Tarczewski goes out of the game, with Brandon Ashley playing center and Aaron Gordon power forward, it was a fulltime job Thursday.
Miller said the different lineup was a big reason why UA struggled on the board, outrebounding Southern by “only” six when it entered the game averaging a 14.2-rebounding margin.
“Kaleb is a big body down low who takes up a lot of space as far as rebounding and second shots – he’s really our rim protector,” guard Nick Johnson said.
While Johnson and T.J. McConnell were in their usual spots, Miller said Tarczewski’s absence also affected them.
“Our guards have had the freedom sometimes to not block out because we’re so gifted at three, four and five,” Miller said. “Tonight we were back to that team where all five had to block out and when we didn’t it was a scramble.”
At the same time, that was a test Miller found value in seeing his players go through.
“I like that because like all teams we’re going to have to play with injuries and foul problems,” Miller said. “I thought it really showed our team that, ‘yeah, you’re right coach, it does feel a little different without Kaleb in that aspect.’
“Same thing on the offensive glass. We’re one of the best in the country at doing it but we weren’t able to do it as easily tonight because we weren’t as big.”
Miller said he’s “anxious” to get a chance to work with the Wildcats over the weekend, now that they are free of academic work and other distractions.
“This was a hard week for our team,” he said. “I was very concerned going into the game. Quite a few of our players had final exams and final papers today so you could imagine coming off the win at Michigan … they’re all juggling that and practice and now playing without Kaleb. I was wondering how it would work and I’m obviously excited we were able to win.”
Miller played all nine of his healthy scholarship players at least six minutes but didn’t receive much meaningful help off the bench except for guard Gabe York, who has been the seventh and final player of Miller’s usual rotation so far.
“I thought Gabe did a great job,” Miller said. “He made two threes and was a quality player for us, made some great passes. He looked like a player who was comfortable out there I thought he gave us some good minutes.”
“It’s unfair to judge Matt (Korcheck) and Elliott (Pitts). Tonight was kind of like their first test. Hopefully, we’re going to have a chance to get them some more minutes on Monday leading into conference play.”
Here's the official box score.
Duke took care of UCLA in New York.
Long Beach State held off USC.
Colorado has Wesley Gordon back.
Utah improved to 10-1 by beating Texas State.