For the second consecutive season, a knee injury to Jernard Jarreau will force the Washington Huskies men’s basketball team to play differently.
Not quite as differently as it did when they lost Jarreau a year ago to an anterior cruciate ligament tear, of course. But some creativity will still be required.
This time, the knee injury isn’t as severe — the 6-foot-10 junior forward had successful arthroscopic surgery on Saturday morning, and is expected to miss four to six weeks — and the impact of his absence shouldn’t be quite as severe, either.
Washington (12-4, 1-3 in Pac-12) already played one game without its full-time starter, beating Oregon State 56-43 at Hec Edmundson Pavilion on Thursday. With the quicker, more up-tempo Oregon Ducks visiting for a 5:30 p.m. game (ESPNU) on Sunday, the Huskies’ depth will be tested in a different way.
“We definitely have to make some adjustments,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said on Saturday. “We had to make some adjustments against Oregon State without him. Jernard (is) not giving you 15 points a game, 20 points a game. He’s not giving you double-double performances every night, but he just does little things that really help your team.”
Romar said the Huskies will miss Jarreau’s defensive versatility. He’s the only member of UW’s frontcourt who can adequately defend opponents on the perimeter. And while he averages only 5.1 points and 4.9 rebounds in 22.3 minutes per game, Romar notes the importance of Jarreau’s role as a distributor in the Huskies’ high-post offense.
“He’s pretty good about those things,” Romar said. “Just little subtle things that Jernard does that really helps our team. Sometimes the statistics don’t show it, but we all understand what he is.”
Without him, 7-foot center Robert Upshaw steps into the starting lineup, and the Huskies’ only big man available off the bench will be 7-footer Gilles Dierickx, who has yet to fully recover from a stress fracture in his foot and has played only two minutes this season.
That means Upshaw and senior forward Shawn Kemp Jr. will likely be the only UW big men who play on Sunday. Both players run the floor well, but the Huskies might have to get resourceful to provide them with necessary rest against a team that prefers to push the ball most times.
Washington might also be thinner at guard, where sophomore Darin Johnson is still trying to recover from a strained quadriceps that forced him to miss Thursday’s game against the Beavers. Romar said Johnson “felt much better (Friday)” than he did the day before, but his status is still day-to-day.
Even if they’re limited to a seven-man rotation, Romar doesn’t believe the Huskies are in a circumstance as dire as the previous season, when frontcourt injuries forced UW to play a four-guard lineup and greatly modify its defensive philosophies.
“I think there’s just a little more emphasis on certain things that we already have within our package,” Romar said. “Last year, we had to totally revamp everything we did. We’re not going to have to totally revamp everything, but we are going to have to tweak some things without his services.”
That will likely mean more zone defense, which worked well enough for the Huskies in their win over Oregon State. One positive of using so much zone, Romar said, was that it allowed Upshaw to stay in the game longer.
His minutes have been trending up, anyway. Upshaw, who on Thursday broke UW’s single-season record for blocked shots — he’s got 72 through just 16 games — has played 31 or more minutes in each of the Huskies’ Pac-12 games, including 37 against Oregon State and 38 in an overtime loss at Stanford. He didn’t play more than 29 minutes in any nonconference game.
He averages 11.1 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per game, and has scored in double-figures in nine consecutive games. Upshaw said on Thursday that Jarreau’s injury indicates “a calling” for him to step up and help absorb the hit to UW’s frontcourt depth.
“For me to be really focused and do what the coaches asked me to do was really big, and I went out there and I did it,” Upshaw said. “I just played my game.”