Whether or not Runnin’ Utes guard Gabe Madsen will play on Thursday night against Stanford remains a mystery.
Madsen’s status remains unknown after suffering what is being called a lower-leg injury early in the first half of Saturday night’s 68-54 loss at Oregon, University of Utah head coach Craig Smith said Tuesday. Smith said he hopes to have a clearer picture of the situation on Wednesday ahead of the Utes’ contest against Stanford on Thursday at the Huntsman Center.
Madsen is working with the Utes’ director of athletic training Trevor Jameson and will continue to test his leg in the coming days, Smith said.
Madsen appeared to suffer a knee injury at the 17:53 mark of the first half in Eugene. The third-year sophomore guard was helped to his feet by trainers, disappeared to the locker room, and later returned to the bench in uniform, but not before being ruled out for the remainder of the evening.
Madsen’s availability looms huge for Utah, maybe not so much for the upcoming homestand against the Cardinal on Thursday and Cal on Sunday, but beyond this weekend. Clinging to NCAA Tournament hopes, none of the Utes’ final six opponents, beginning Feb. 11 vs. Colorado, has a NET ranking worse than 70, and none of them are rated lower than 65 on KenPom.com.
Madsen is Utah’s second-leading scorer at 11.7 points per game, while shooting 37.3% from 3-point range. His 150 3-point attempts are second-most in the Pac-12 behind Arizona guard Kerr Kriisa.
With Madsen out for the majority of the game in Eugene, Lazar Stefanovic scored 14 points on 5-for-13 shooting, including 4-for-8 from deep, in 35 minutes. The Serbian-born sophomore generally gets the first call off Smith’s bench, but he would be a logical replacement in the starting lineup if Madsen cannot go.
What happens with the rotation beyond Stefanovic, who would presumably take on heavy minutes and a sizable chunk of offensive responsibility, would then be in question. Freshman Wil Exacte, who has seen an increased workload of late, and fourth-year junior Bostyn Holt are both legitimate candidates for more minutes off the bench, with freshman Luka Tarlac also an option on the wing if the matchup allows it.
“The good news for us is he’s a veteran guy,” Smith said of Stefanovic, who is averaging 9.7 points on 37.7 shooting in 25.6 minutes per game. “The amount of minutes he’s played as a sophomore is probably as many as a junior at the same stage. He’s been there, done that, and it doesn’t just put more of a load on him, but on everybody.
“Certainly, losing a guy like that doesn’t help the equation, but we have to have a next-guy-up mentality.”