BYU's two-game Bay Area road swing resulted in considerable benefit: two wins that extended the Cougars win streak to five games and their road win streak to seven games, keeping BYU in the mix for a West Coast Conference regular season championship.
The victories at San Francisco and Santa Clara also came with a potentially significant cost: knee injuries suffered by leading scorer Noah Hartsock and third-leading scorer Matt Carlino.
It was during Carlino's career-high 30-point effort at USF that he slipped on a pair of occasions, spraining his right knee. The sprain was a mild one, but put Carlino in a brace to begin Saturday's game at Santa Clara. Due to foul trouble, he played only seven first half minutes, going scoreless in the process. He started the second half without the brace, but soon put it back on, playing 15 second half minutes and scoring two points.
Following the game, head coach Dave Rose said it was apparent that Carlino was "slowed" by the injury. After taking 19 shots and making 13 two nights earlier, Carlino was 1-for-4 from the floor at SCU, adding a game-high seven assists, with only two turnovers.
Hartsock, meantime, suffered what initially looked like a possible season-ender when a Bronco player landed on Hartsock under the basket, with Hartsock's left knee caught and twisted beneath his body as he crumpled to the floor. An obviously distressed Hartsock lay prone for a number of minutes, before rising and hobbling off the floor--disaster averted, it appeared, as Hartsock returned to the floor to score two more field goals and a free throw, ending the day with a team-high 21 points.
After the contest, Hartsock left the locker room with his knee iced, and the Sunday report from Rose was that Hartsock's injury was similar to that of Carlino: a mild knee (MCL) sprain, with more to be known after a couple of days to assess swelling and soreness.
While clearly affected by his injury, Carlino was able to play two days later, albeit not at his usual speed or level of effectiveness. Hartsock is as tough as they come, and I would be surprised if he didn't find a way to play Thursday at Gonzaga. The demands of his position might not make an injury as apparent as Carlino's, but even if less than full speed, Hartsock has a proven record of playing--and playing well--through pain.
Whether it's a sore ankle that he has been dealing with throughout the season, or repeated injuries to his oft-targeted nose, Hartsock simply battles through the maladies of the marathon. Most memorable was his performance last February at San Diego State: the biggest game of the Cougars' season to that point, featuring a pair of nationally-ranked teams in line for their schools' highest-ever seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
The night before the game, Hartsock hobbled around the floor at Viejas Arena, with a foot that been recently injured and re-injured. Rose said that even Hartsock had doubts about his readiness to play the next day; "I really didn't know how this was going to turn out," the coach said at the time.
Of course, Hartsock played, and played 39 minutes, scoring 15 points, pulling down five rebounds, blocking four shots and handing out three assists, as BYU won 80-67. Jimmer Fredette's 25 points got most of the attention, but Hartsock's contribution "was as tough and as gutty an effort as we've probably had," Rose said after the game.
Remember that story as BYU prepares to face Gonzaga Thursday night on the Bulldogs' home floor in Spokane--almost exactly one year since BYU visited San Diego State with, then as now, Hartsock's participation in question. It was a huge game then, and it's a huge game now. Expect Hartsock to be as ready as he can be to help his team.
Stephen Rogers' knee injuries have forced him to miss almost half of BYU's season, and the minutes he played in a handful of games after his initial surgery were inconsequential. Chris Collinsworth's knee injury and surgery in December of 2010 continue to haunt him, with the 12 minutes he played in the season's first two games certain to be the only time he sees in 2011-12. Now, it's late-season knee injuries to Carlino and Hartsock.
While Dave Rose could be forgiven for feeling snake-bit, that's not his style. Last season's best-laid plans had to be re-drawn in the waning days of February, but his team rallied, and ended up just short of BYU's first Elite Eight in 30 years.
A year later, a collection of knee injuries has placed in some doubt whether this squad will reach its full potential. I am hopeful that Carlino and Hartsock can play through these most recent setbacks, just as I am hopeful Rogers can yet make a healthy return and assist BYU in its pursuit of postseason success. Regardless, Rose won't allow injury or absence to dampen his competitive fire, or that of his players. Rose's BYU teams have overcome adversity in the past, and again they are presented with a late-season personnel challenge, just days before the biggest game of this season. I would prefer that Gonzaga get BYU at full strength, and while that may not be the case, the Bulldogs will get the Cougars at their most determined.
BYU-Gonzaga week arrives with neither team ranked, as the Bulldogs have dropped out of both college basketball Top 25 polls this week, following the Zags' loss at San Francisco.
BYU is 28th in the AP survey, one spot behind Gonzaga, and six spots ahead of St. Mary's, which after consecutive losses last week remains ranked, at 23rd, in the Coaches' Poll.
Here is how the top three teams in the WCC stack up in the national ratings and rankings:
Top Three Teams in the WCC (national college basketball ratings/rankings, 2/20/12)
|Team||AP Top 25||Coaches' Top 25||Palm RPI||Sagarin||Pomeroy|
BYU's Ranking in National Statistical Categories, Top 50 (NCAA and Ken Pomeroy stats through 2/19/12; *indicates stats from kenpom.com)
|Scoring Offense||10th||79.7 ppg|
|Scoring Margin||11th||13.7 ppg|
|Rebound Margin||39th||+5.0 reb/gm|
|Steals Per Game||24th||8.5|
|Defensive Efficiency*||20th||90.8 rtg|
|Offensive Rebound % (defense)*||13th||26.6%|
|3PFG % Defense*||41st||31.0%|
|Block % (offense)*||45th||7.3%|
|Steal % (defense)*||46th||11.5|
And, it was a good week for most BYU players' PAP (Points Available Percentage) numbers. Here's the update:
Points Available Percentages for BYU Players (as of 2/20/12)
|Rank||Player||Points||Points Available||PAP this week (%)||PAP last week (%)||PAP Up or Down from last week (%)||Rank last week||Rank Up or Down from last week|
Note: players must play at least 10 minutes per game to be ranked; not ranked are Josh Sharp (47.1), Nick Martineau (42.4), Damarcus Harrison (33.1) and Chris Collinsworth (0.0)
BYU's current team PAP is 49.3%; 2,311 of 4,686 possible points, up from 48.9% last week.
Photo courtesy of Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo