Wichita State center Garrett Stutz takes a lot of pounding in the low post as he bangs and jostles with big men. Now he is also fighting back pain that limits his mobility, the result of a collision during the Indiana State game on Sunday.
Stutz, a 7-foot senior, did not practice Friday and may sit out tonight’s game against Southern Illinois at Koch Arena.
“I’ve been having some back issues,” he said. “I don’t want to go into details. Right now, I’m out for a little while. We want to wait until Saturday game time to see.”
WSU coach Gregg Marshall will use caution when evaluating the injury, just as he did when he sat guard Joe Ragland against Bradley to rest a sprained toe. He said he does not believe the injury to Stutz is a long-term problem.
“They haven’t said it’s long term,” he said. “We’re just being cautious right now. He’s had a couple days off practice, and hopefully it gets better.”
WSU (16-3, 7-1) is tied for first in the Missouri Valley Conference with Creighton. SIU (6-13, 3-5) has lost four of five games, a stretch that started with an 83-73 loss to the Shockers at SIU Arena earlier this month.
Stutz said his back pain started during the first half at Indiana State when a defender held down his arm when he went up for a shot attempt.
“It wasn’t as big a deal,” he said. “I played through it. It progressively got worse.”
Stutz played well on Wednesday against Northern Iowa, although he appeared to be in pain, often flexing his wrist and grimacing after he took several tumbles to the court. He scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds in 30 minutes. Should Stutz sit out tonight’s game, forward Carl Hall moves to center and Ben Smith will start at forward.
The setback comes when Stutz is playing the best basketball of his WSU career. He has averaged 14.6 points in eight MVC games and his average of 9.3 rebounds in conference play ranks first. For the season, he averages 12.4 points (tied for team lead) and a team-leading 7.6 rebounds. In recent games, he has shown a new array of scoring moves. In the post, he is going to a spin move toward the baseline that ends with a reverse layup when teams double him with a guard. He is also surprising defenses with a drive from the foul line that takes advantage of an opponent’s unwillingness to help off shooters such as Smith or David Kyles.
“It’s moves I work on all the time, counter-moves,” he said. “When there is shooter strong-side, they are a lot more reluctant to help off them. If I can just beat my guy, there’s really no help. If there is help, I can kick it to a shooter.”
The Shockers are in a good position in the Valley race with six of their remaining 10 conference games at home. They are 5-0 in MVC road games with four remaining. SIU’s arrival at Koch Arena is a reminder of one of last season’s most painful lossses at home. Keeping pace with Creighton means defending home court.
“We have a different mentality on the road,” Hall said. “We’re more focused on the road than we are at home. We get relaxed when we play here.”
While SIU is slumping, Marshall knows it is important to understand the Salukis are a much different team than they were in November and December. The past four losses are to WSU, Drake, Missouri State and Creighton, all teams in the top half of the MVC standings. SIU started the season 3-8, in part because five players missed games due to a variety of reasons.
“They keep finding different guys that continually help them get better,” Marshall said. “They’re healthy. They’ve got all their guys back. They were losing some games that they wouldn’t have lost if they had the full complement of their roster.”