The Arizona Wildcats will get a boost to their frontcourt at UCLA on Thursday when Los Angeles native Ira Lee will return to the lineup.
The senior forward missed last week’s games against the Oregon schools due to an ankle injury he suffered in practice earlier that week. However, head coach Sean Miller said Lee practiced all three days this week before the team left for Westwood on Wednesday.
“We’re deeper team with Ira, we’re a more versatile team,” Miller said. “One thing Ira does is he rebounds. He gives you energy. Ira is from Los Angeles, so this is gonna be the one of the last times that he has a chance to play in L.A. against these two teams so I’m glad we have him for sure.”
The Wildcats are coming off a loss to Oregon in which they were outrebounded for the first time this season. Lee is Arizona’s best rebounder on a per-minute basis, tracking down 11.8 boards per 40 minutes. His playing time has dipped in recent weeks, though. He only averaged 6.3 minutes in the four games before his injury, including a season-low one minute at Colorado.
Lee is eligible to return next season because this is a free year of eligibility but has said he will wait until the end of the season to make a decision.
Makeup games unlikely?
With Arizona self-banned from the postseason, it is very possible Lee only has four games left in his UA career. When asked if the Wildcats will make up any of their postponed games, Miller seemed less than confident.
“I think the conference is going to protect itself, to get the most teams in postseason,” he said. “And I don’t know the answer to the question. Nobody has said no. Nobody has said yes. But if I’m doing the math I don’t know if that last week is as clear cut as maybe it once was because I think any team that’s in the NCAA Tournament has to have seven consecutive days of negative tests, right? So I think our conference has to do the best they can of taking care of those teams that are in that situation. And I don’t know where we stack up. If we’re needed, clearly we would love to play, but I don’t really have the answer to that. We have to go on the four (games) that we definitely know we’re playing and then after that we’ll cross that bridge.”
Arizona saw its Jan. 16 game at Oregon postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the Ducks’ program. It also has room to add one more non-conference game, but that seems like a pointless endeavor at this point.