Markelle Fultz has missed the past two games due to a sore knee, but is expected to practice Wednesday. If all goes well, he'll likely return for Thursday's game against Arizona State.
The Washington men’s basketball team needs all the help it can get to snap a seven-game losing streak and potentially gain a little momentum heading into next month’s Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas.
To that end, the health status of Markelle Fultz and Malik Dime’s suspension are hot topics for a team that has metaphorically lived under dark and rainy clouds all season.
The news from Lorenzo Romar’s press conference on Wednesday was somewhat encouraging for Fultz, who returned to practice and is listed as questionable for Thursday after missing the previous two games.
Meanwhile, Dime won’t play in the 8 p.m. encounter against Arizona State (12-14, 5-8 Pac-12) at Alaska Airlines Arena and will miss his second straight game due to a suspension.
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The 6-foot-9 senior center was suspended by Washington following an off-court incident in which he slapped a Colorado student heckler at halftime during UW’s 81-66 loss on Feb. 9.
Before the suspension, Dime missed the previous nine games due to a broken pinkie. He sat out UW’s 85-61 loss at Utah last Saturday.
Dime has been medically cleared to play, but it’s unclear if or when he’ll return this season.
“We’re still evaluating everything completely,” Romar said. “So we’ll see. To be determined.”
Futlz’s status for Thursday depends largely on how he performed during Wednesday’s practice and if he has any lingering issues with a sore right knee that caused him to miss two games last week.
The 6-5 freshman guard had been limited in practice, but participated in 5-on-5 workouts for the first time in days.
“He’s progressing,” Romar said. “He’s doing a little more. Still day to day, but he’s been doing a little bit with us and he’ll do a little bit more. He’ll still be a pretty much game-time decision.
“Each day is different with it. If he continues to make progress, we’re probably more optimistic than pessimistic.”
Fultz, who averages 23.2 points, is on pace to finish with the highest scoring average in the Pac-12 since former California star Ed Gray averaged 24.8 in 1996-97.
Given Fultz’s promising future, he’s projected to be the No. 1 pick in this summer’s NBA draft, it’s fair to wonder if UW’s dismal season has any impact on his return.
“He has not been allowed to play,” Romar said. “You’ve got to hold him back from wanting to play. If you’re playing H-O-R-S-E, if you’re playing on the playground, if you’re playing on an 8-foot rim, he wants to play. But he was held back from playing.
“Where we’re at in the season has nothing to do with if he’s playing or not.”
Washington (9-16, 2-13) will finish the regular season with a losing record. If the Huskies fail to capture another win, then they’ll have the fewest victories since 1993-94 when they were 5-22 during Bob Bender’s first year.
Barring a win before the conference tourney, UW would have its fewest league wins since 1960.
Without Fultz, the Huskies were outscored by an average of 19.5 points last week.
“Subconsciously, you go out there without your leading scorer and leading (player in assists) and leading playmaker … and you’re not playing with a full deck,” Romar said. “But I didn’t think we went out there not believing we could win when we were in Colorado and Utah.”
Even with Fultz, Washington has obviously struggled.
He had one of his best outings of the season – 28 points, nine assists and eight rebounds – in the first game against Arizona State and UW still lost 86-75 on Jan. 25 in Tempe, Ariz.
“He loves to play basketball,” Romar said when asked how Fultz is dealing with distractions. “He can’t wait to get on the court. When he’s on the court, it’s his playground. So not a whole lot is going to distract him. He loves the game too much.”