In 32 years of coaching at the college and NBA levels, USC coach Kevin O'Neill said he has never seen a team with the level of injuries the Trojans have had to face this season.
While preparing for a preseason trip to Brazil, the Trojans lost big man Curtis Washington to a torn labrum, and things went quickly downhill from there. Standout point guard Jio Fontan tore an ACL in Brazil and was lost for the season, and during the season, forwards Evan Smith and Aaron Fuller were lost to torn labrums, and center Dewayne Dedmon went down with a torn MCL.
Center James Blasczyk, while able to play games, does not practice most of the time because of a bone bruise and a mid-foot sprain he suffered Nov. 17.
"My heart goes out to their team and Kevin," UA coach Sean Miller said. "It's difficult to have any fun when you've had so many injuries.
"It's astonishing. There's no team that can overcome that, and I give them credit because they are excellent fundamentally with what they do on defense. They've lost a lot of height, which affects their rebounding, but they're playing each game to the best of their ability."
No relief in sight
If he were back in the NBA, where he once served as head coach of the Toronto Raptors, O'Neill could get his GM to find some bodies via trades or by signing free agents to 10-day contracts.
But in college, all he can do is invite walk-ons to practice and hope for the best.
"I mean, there's nobody going to get eligible, there's no trades," O'Neill said. "I wish we had a couple of 10-days, but there's going to be none of that. So our team is constructed, and that's the way we're going to be."
O'Neill said the Trojans are even much different than they were on Jan. 8 when they lost to UA at the Galen Center. Since then, Fuller and Dedmon were lost for the season, forcing them to rely more on the perimeter.
"We basically have four scholarship players, some walk-ons and two guys who are sitting out practices," O'Neill said. "The rest of the guys can't do anything. So we shorten up practices. It puts the guys in a position where they're playing too many minutes. Every one of them."
New uniforms honor the past
The gray, er, Platinum (in Nike-speak), uniforms that the Wildcats will be wearing Saturday against UCLA aren't exactly traditional. They have no navy in them and no use of the words "Arizona" or "Wildcats," instead having the term "ZONA" plastered across the chest.
But UA guard Brendon Lavender said they look nice, and, for UA coach Sean Miller, the look is not the most important thing.
When asked what he thought of the Nike Hyper Elite Platinum uniforms - given to all teams that have won a national title in Nike gear - Miller said they were a tribute to former coach Lute Olson and ex-Wildcats.
"They're not giving those uniforms because I'm sitting here," Miller said. "They're giving those uniforms to us because of things that have happened over a 25-, 30-year period of time, including the '97 national championship. Our relationship with Nike is one that's sacred to us, and my hope is they'll continue to feel the same way about our future as they have in the past. It's an honor to wear those uniforms, and the way we can honor them is by playing really well."
Miller: Having Match Play here means a lot
Tucson's sports attention may be somewhat divided this week, with the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and the Tucson Rodeo going on at the same time that the Wildcats will play their final two home games of the regular season.
But, even though he's not a regular golfer, Miller said he understood Match Play's local appeal.
"I know that's going on, and it means a lot to Tucson so it means a lot to me as part of this community," Miller said. "It's great that they're here, and hopefully they'll be here for a few more years. There are so many key people that are heavily involved in making that tournament what it is today.
"I'll also tell you I know about golf what I know about a lot of things, which isn't very much. But when I came here, I didn't know anything about it, but I certainly do now."
USC at Arizona, 6:30 p.m. today, FSAZ, 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)
He said it …
"They have not given up, and that's an attitude I attribute to the coaching staff. They play a great team defense. Last year they had Marcus Simmons, who was a tremendous defender you could put on anybody. Now they have more of a team defense."
Book Richardson, Arizona assistant coach who scouted the Trojans
UCLA at Arizona, Noon Saturday, Ch 13, 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)
He said it …
"The Wear twins are very underrated. They're good at everything. They're skilled, they're smart, they're hard-playing, and they have a great knack of getting second shots. Josh Smith is a monster, and I mean that in the most positive terms that I can give a player. He's just so different than anybody you play against. … Ben Howland is as good as an offensive coach as I have seen. They're so efficient in what they do. They rarely turn the ball over, and they have a great way of being able to get those guys in scoring position."
Sean Miller, Arizona head coach