PROVO — BYU freshman forward Eric Mika returned to the floor last weekend in the Cougars’ pair of road victories in the Bay Area.
Mika had missed two straight games while dealing with a hip injury.
Now, BYU could be without another big guy in the lineup.
Forward Nate Austin injured his ankle during Tuesday’s practice. The 6-foot-11 junior was having his ankle examined by doctors Tuesday night.
The Cougars visit Portland Thursday (8 p.m. MST, Root).
“Nate tweaked his ankle in practice. He’s having it X-rayed,” said BYU coach Dave Rose. “Hopefully, we can keep the swelling under control and go from there. We’ll see what the doctors have to say.”
If Austin, who is the Cougars’ leading rebounder, can’t play, there will be more onus on Mika both offensively and defensively.
The Pilots boast two talented post players — 6-7 Ryan Nicholas (12.7 ppg, 9.2 rpg) and 6-11 Thomas van der Mars (12.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg).
“These guys are all big. They’ve all been there for a while. They’re physical. And they’re smart,” Mika said. “I need to stay out of foul trouble, obviously, and be in there and just battle so we can get opportunities to push the ball and play like we play.”
Mika’s return last week had its ups and downs, but he was glad to be back in action.
“It felt good — it especially felt good to get out and practice,” Mika said. “I wasn’t doing a whole lot the week before that. I felt a little bit rusty, but hopefully going through this week, I’ll be feeling 100 percent — not just physically, but also mentally, getting back into everything.”
How does Rose assess Mika’s confidence level in his return?
“He’s really playing hard for the guys right now,” he said. “He’s in a situation where he’s trying to feel his way back onto the floor. He feels really comfortable in a lot of positions, but not 100 percent comfortable in all positions. I think that comes with time when you recover from any kind of injury.”
Mika admitted that it’s been difficult getting back into the rhythm of the game.
“The challenge, and I think with every injury there’s a little bit of it, is just kind of being timid,” Mika said. “You don’t want to come back and be scared that you’re going to get hurt. Once I get over that completely, then I’ll be good.”
The hip injury, suffered against San Diego on Jan. 4, has affected his game “because it’s my planting leg. I rely on my left leg a lot,” said Mika.
At times last weekend, Mika felt some frustration because he wasn’t able to play at the level he expects of himself.
“I was out for a whole week from practice and 2 1/2 games,” Mika said. “I felt good in practice before those games, but once you get into a game, it’s a whole different thing from practice. It felt like how I felt the very first games of the season. Everything seemed a little bit fast because it’s different from practice.”
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