One little ring finger hangs in the balance of the UCSB men’s basketball team’s young season.
Senior power forward Adama Ndiaye is expected to miss four to six weeks after fracturing his left ring finger while trying to handle a deflected ball in practice last Thursday. Ndiaye had a pin placed in his finger on Friday to support the bone.
“We counted on him,” sophomore point guard B.J. Ward said. “He contributes on and off the court. It was hard for [the team] to lose him. It was a heartbreaker.”
Ndiaye is the Gauchos’ strongest post player and made vast improvements on his game during the off-season. Ndiaye pumped in 9.3 points, ripped down 7.5 rebounds, and rejected 1.8 shots a game in his junior campaign. The native of Senegal was expected to be one of the top enforcers in the Big West this year, and his absence will be felt.
“It hurts us at both ends of the floor,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said. “Not having him there to rebound on one end and blocking shots on the other end hurts us.”
To add insult to injury, freshman guard Branduinn Fullove suffered an anterior capsular sprain, or a severely sprained ankle that will place him on the shelf for two to four weeks also. Fullove received the injury with just over two minutes in the 64-53 loss at Pepperdine, while senior forward Juliano Jordani grabbed the rebound, inadvertently falling on Fullove’s right ankle. The Simi Valley High product rang up a team-high 13 points.
“He’s just amazing,” Jordani said. “He knows so much about the game. That’s a big loss, too. He plays good defense and takes it strong inside. We’re trying to stay positive.”
Though the injuries are major blows to Santa Barbara’s quest for a Big West title, the Gauchos have a solid bench and their depth at the forward positions may alleviate the team’s injuries.
Santa Barbara will turn to big men Jordani, Mark Hull, Casey Cook, J.J. Todd and Mike Vukovich, who started in place of Ndiaye at Pepperdine, for leadership in the front court. UCSB is still solid at the shooting guard position with freshman Nick Jones and senior LaRon Bryant.
“As a group we have to pick up the scoring,” Williams said. “When we play we have to be more aggressive and more assertive and we will be … there will not be an individual to pick up the scoring.”
Ndiaye thought he would only be out for a couple of days before his return to the court, but the news kept getting worse.
“I was just catching a ball that was deflected, and it went to the finger and broke it,” Ndiaye said. “I kept playing and then I looked back and the nail [bulged] out. The finger was bleeding so I got kind of worried … I got it X-rayed and at this time I wasn’t even worried. I thought I’d be out a couple of days. The next day, I saw a hand specialist … and it was a more serious injury than I had thought and [the doctor] thought it was. … Things like that happen.”
Ndiaye does not know if he will come back to finish the season or redshirt so he can play next year.
“I haven’t exactly decided yet,” Ndiaye said. “I have to talk with coach first and then find out [what I’m going to do].”
The Gauchos hope and expect that Vukovich will make a positive impact and help the team out. Vukovich will be given the first opportunity to fill Ndiaye’s big shoes. Vukovich averaged 6 points and 4 rebounds while making 62.5% of his shots over the final seven games of last year.
“Now that Adama’s gone, I’m going to be more aggressive,” Vukovich said. “I’m going to be more demanding for the ball. I know I can play with these guys.”
Even though Ndiaye is injured, he remains an integral part of the team, encouraging his teammates to work hard and keep confidence up
“I try to encourage the guys to keep their heads up,” Ndiaye said. “I try to get them to step up and I push them to help the guys from my own experience playing basketball. I tell them to keep their heads straight and I tell them not to get frustrated.”