The Division I college basketball landscape in Arizona right now resembles a triage scene in an old episode of M*A*S*H, where the battle casualties are sorted out to determine which need the most immediate attention.
In this case, it’s a matter of sorting through the injury list to figure out who can play in the next game.
The University of Arizona and Grand Canyon University were both down to seven scholarship players available for their last game on Saturday. Arizona State had the ‘luxury’ of eight on its bench. That brings a real challenge to substituting – not to mention practice plans.
Despite its depleted roster, ASU got 17 points from its bench, compared to New Mexico State’s nine. But it wasn’t enough to overcome the 15-point lead the Aggies had built right after halftime, thanks to an 18-4 scoring run.
The Sun Devils closed the gap to nine points on a crowd-pleasing dunk by their 6’8″ senior forward, Obinna Oleka, with 40 seconds left to play, but had to settle for an 81-70 loss, dropping their record to 6-5. It was ASU’s first home loss in five games at Wells Fargo Arena.
After going into the half down two points, cold shooting in the second half (10-for-33) kept the Devils from getting back into the game. Oleka finished with 18 points and led the team in rebounds with 11. Also in double figures: senior guard Torian Graham (14) and junior guard Tra Holder (13).
The Wildcats, who are ranked No. 18 (AP)/No. 19 (Coaches poll) despite dealing with a depleted roster, had better luck with a different Aggies team, the Texas A&M Aggies.
But the shallow bench took its toll and nearly cost the game as the limited rotation meant that players began to tire late in the game. An aggressive Arizona defense that forced eight turnovers as the second half began was running out of gas in the fourth quarter. The Aggies went on an 18-0 run in the final five minutes to pull to within two points before the Cats (10-2) were able to hold on for the 67-63 victory on the road, their fourth straight win.
Those in double figures for Arizona included Dusan Ristic (18), Lauri Markkanen (17), and Kobi Simmons (14).
Grand Canyon (6-5) also squeezed as much as it could out of its thinning line-up, holding off a late surge by Mississippi Valley State to pull out a 72-62 home win.
The Antelopes, who used a four-guard line-up for much of the game, were ahead by 14 at the half and had built a substantial 22-point lead midway through the second half before the Delta Devils made a game of it in the final minutes. Despite being a smaller team, the Devils held their own on the boards as GCU finished with a slight 35-32 advantage. GCU’s 6’11” center, Boubacar Toure, is sidelined with a knee injury and leaves a gaping hole in the middle of the paint.
Mississippi Valley’s offensive advantage came behind the three-point arc where the Devils connected on 50 percent of their attempts and the ‘Lopes managed just 31 percent.
DeWayne Russell, GCU’s prolific point guard who has been included lately in the top three scorers in the nation, led the ‘Lopes with 22 points that included four of seven three-point attempts. Due to the injury situation lately, the redshirt senior from Peoria High School has been playing all 40 minutes on a regular basis.
All three teams play tomorrow night, but that will be it for Arizona before a break for Christmas. ASU and GCU will play again on Thursday before taking a short breather.
The break should provide a little additional healing time for each team, hopefully restoring some of their bench strength before hitting conference play.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)