PULLMAN – Faisal Aden used his crutches to walk across Washington State’s campus on Tuesday, a brace engulfing most of his left leg.
This, unfortunately, is how Aden will finish his senior season, as well as his WSU basketball career.
An MRI exam taken Sunday revealed a torn ACL in Aden’s left knee, which he injured during the first half of Thursday’s loss to Arizona. Aden was driving to the basket against Arizona’s Jordin Mayes when his left knee bent awkwardly and he collapsed to the floor in pain.
So ends the season of WSU’s second-leading scorer. Aden was averaging 14.5 points per game this season. And though an ACL tear would be bad news for anyone and everyone, Aden’s fate seems particularly cruel as it comes just more than a week after he earned Pac-12 Player of the Week following two outstanding performances against Stanford and California.
In those games, Aden played as efficiently as ever, scoring 33 and 24 points, driving to the basket, drawing fouls, finishing around the rim and making free throws. He didn’t make a single 3-pointer and only attempted three during the weekend, a sign that perhaps he was beginning to understand how to best utilize his skills.
“He was playing the kind of basketball that we saw when we recruited him out of junior college,” coach Ken Bone said. “Just coming off his best weekend as a Coug, conference player of the week, national player of the week. Obviously, we’re going to miss him tremendously.”
Bone said he wasn’t sure what Aden’s role within the program would be moving forward – whether he’d attend practices, travel with the team, etc. – but that he would sort it all out when he met with Aden on Tuesday.
“Talking to him over the weekend and just on the way back home, he’s just discouraged,” Bone said. “It’s tough when you have an injury, it’s really difficult when you have a season ending injury, and it can be at times devastating when it’s a career ending injury.”
And not just for Aden. Without him, the Cougars lose one of their only players capable of putting the ball on the floor and scoring at will. Junior forward Brock Motum, the team’s leading scorer, is likely to get more touches now, but will also likely see more double-teams and defenses focused on limiting his impact.
Motum said Aden’s loss hurts, but he’s confident that his teammates can shoot well enough to keep opposing teams from keying solely on him.
“I think it just means now some other guys are going to have to step up,” Motum said. “He took some big shots for the team and scored a lot of our points over the past few weeks. Now I think some of the other guards are going to have to step up and fill that role.”
Even if those guards haven’t played all that much. Dexter Kernich-Drew and Will DiIori, both of whom have seen sporadic playing time this season, each were included in the rotation against Arizona State on Sunday. It’s likely that each of them will be relied on to play similar minutes when the Cougars host USC and UCLA this week.
There’s added pressure on the regulars, too.
“With all the guards, all their minutes will increase a little bit,” Bone said. “I feel like we need our starters on the floor a few more minutes, and we need to manage that whether it’s changing defenses or slowing down our offense, calling timeouts, whatever it is – try to keep our best players on the court whenever we can.”
WSU (11-10, 3-6 Pac-12) also remains without guard Mike Ladd, who has missed the last five games with a right thumb injury. Bone said it’s “up in the air” whether Ladd will return this season, and that surgery has been considered but the team wants to wait to see if Ladd’s thumb heals in time to salvage at least a few games of his season.
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