SAN FRANCISCO — As well as Josh Sharp and Nate Austin have played in the past two games while freshman forward Eric Mika was sidelined with a hip injury, BYU has been eagerly awaiting Mika’s return to the court.
It appears that will happen Thursday (7 p.m. MST, ESPNU) when the Cougars invade War Memorial Gymnasium to take on San Francisco.
Mika’s hip injury, suffered on Jan. 4 in a win over San Diego at the Marriott Center, has forced coach Dave Rose to make adjustments to his lineup, and BYU has been without a dominant inside presence.
“Eric’s a big part of our offensive and defensive game plan. I do think that having another body will be good,” Rose said. “The combination of Josh and Nate was really good for us. Playing those minutes with a couple of wins should help with the confidence of the team. But we need Eric. We need him to play well. The last couple of times on the road, he’s been in foul trouble. Hopefully, sitting and watching for a couple of games might help him mentally. Maybe he picked up a couple of things from a different point of view. The most important thing is that he’s healthy.”
Mika has returned to practice in recent days and Rose said Tuesday that “unless he has a setback” the Cougars should have him on the floor Thursday.
Guard Tyler Haws said he and his teammates can’t wait to play with the 6-foot-11, 230-pound Mika again.
“It would mean a lot. Eric’s a huge boost for us and a huge presence for us inside on both ends of the floor. It will be good to have him back."
Mika's return should benefit Haws' game, too.
“Every game, we’re trying to play inside-out," said Haws, who has scored 66 points in the past two games. "Whenever we can establish a presence inside, it definitely helps me out and opens a lot for my game. Eric definitely brings that for us.”
In 16 games this season, Mika has averaged 13.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 26 minutes per contest. He is shooting 56 percent from the field and 59 percent from the free-throw line. Mika fouled out of two recent road games, at Oregon and at Pepperdine.
In Mika’s absence, BYU managed to earn home wins against Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount last weekend.
The fact that the Cougars had to play without Mika may pay dividends in the future.
“It’s forced other guys to step up and play different roles,” said Haws. “I think our team’s grown even though he’s been out. It might be a blessing in disguise.”
“The game is a real physical game, and that’s where Eric really gives us a presence as a physical player,” Rose said. “Our guys found other ways to win. Offensively, we really like to throw the ball in the post. We did a good job of attacking from the baseline and the elbow. Every team benefits when you win and you have a couple of guys sit out and they come back and play for you.”
“It’s a positive sign when you have guys that can step in and fill different roles, they come in and make a positive impact,” guard Skyler Halford said. “When Eric gets back, it will be that much better for us.”
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