Riding high after three straight victories, the USC men’s basketball team had to deal with some bad news Monday when it was announced that redshirt junior forward Ari Stewart will be out of action for at least three weeks after he suffered a fractured left thumb in Sunday’s 71-60 win over Washington at the Galen Center.
In his first season of eligibility after transferring to USC from Wake Forest, Stewart has had an up-and-down season with the Trojans. Under former USC coach Kevin O’Neill, Stewart received sporadic playing time and struggled to find a niche in the rotation. In 17 games with O’Neill at the helm, Stewart only appeared in nine of them. Of those nine games, he played fewer than 10 minutes in five games and averaged 2.9 points per game on 33 percent shooting, including a 28.6 percent mark from 3-point range.
Stewart has experienced a resurgence of sorts under interim head coach Bob Cantu. In the seven games since Cantu’s takeover of the team, Stewart has appeared in each game and averaged 13.3 minutes per contest as one of the team’s primary bench players. With the added minutes, Stewart saw his scoring average jump to 4.4 points per game under Cantu. In addition, Stewart has become a more effective rebounder, averaging three rebounds per game under Cantu compared to just 1.1 per game under O’Neill.
With Stewart’s absence, players such as senior forwards Aaron Fuller and Renaldo Woolridge can expect an increase in minutes. Despite receiving limited playing time, Fuller has been hot as of late. He has shot a staggering 91.7 percent from the field on 12 shots over the past three games, including a near-perfect 15-point effort in the team’s 75-71 overtime win over UCLA.
Woolridge, on the other hand, has appeared in just 14 games this season and averaged only 4.5 minutes per game played. A Southern California native, whose father Orlando Woolridge played 13 seasons in the NBA including two with the Los Angeles Lakers, the younger Woolridge offers a versatile skill set. At six-foot-nine, he shot 37.2 percent from 3-point land last season at Tennessee. Though he has yet to display that kind of shooting stroke this season while posting a 25 percent mark from long distance.
If his recovery follows the expected timetable, Stewart will be able to rejoin the team on the court in time to compete in the 2013 Pac-12 tournament, which begins on March 13 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
USC next plays Thursday against Stanford in a nationally televised game at 8:00 p.m. in Palo Alto, Calif.