The Loyola men’s basketball team suffered a potentially major setback when Lucas Williamson broke his right hand during Loyola’s loss to the University of Nevada Nov. 27. The injury is expected to keep the sophomore guard sidelined until January, according to Loyola Athletics. Loyola (5-3) won its first game without Williamson 73-64 over University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Dec. 1.
Williamson was averaging 8.9 points to go along with 7.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game this season, highlighted by a 23-point outburst in a victory over University of Richmond Nov. 19. Williamson is also second on the team in three-point percentage, shooting 37.9 percent over seven games.
With the loss of Williamson, head coach Porter Moser was forced to restructure his lineup. Moser also moved redshirt sophomore forward Aher Uguak — who had previously started every game this season — to the bench. Uguak, whom Moser spoke highly of before the season, is averaging 5.1 points and 2.6 rebounds per game on just 34.3 percent shooting. The six minutes he played against UIC were the fewest he’s played all season.
Taking their places in the starting lineup were first-year guards Isaiah Bujdoso and Cooper Kaifes, who were both starting their first collegiate game.
“Two [first-years] getting their first starts in a city rivalry game, I thought they did a really nice job,” Moser said. “[Kaifes] just has a high level of confidence. We saw it in the Nevada game. Isaiah’s defense was one of the things we wanted, a longer guard defensively … Bruno [Skokna], Isaiah and Coop really stepped up.”
The trio of Skokna, Bujdoso and Kaifes all averaged roughly 15 minutes each coming into the game against UIC. In the first game without Williamson, all three players logged at least 23 minutes apiece.
Sophomore center Cameron Krutwig compared Williamson’s injury to when Ben Richardson suffered a broken hand last season and was forced to miss 10 games. Krutwig stressed the importance of role players stepping up to replace Williamson while he’s out.
“It was kind of like deja vu last year with Ben,” Krutwig said. “The message was just ‘next man up.’ Obviously, today, we had a couple guys step up, and we’re going to continue to have guys step up.”
Redshirt senior guard Clayton Custer agreed with Krutwig and said there are positive takeaways from Williamson’s injury. He said losing Richardson last season helped other players get experience which was crucial for their NCAA Tournament run.
“Last year it ended up being kind of a good thing for us when Ben went out,” Custer said. “It got guys more minutes and at the end of the year, we had ‘strength in numbers,’ as coach says. I think in the long run, this could be a good thing, even though obviously we’re upset that Lucas isn’t out there with us.”
Custer praised the first-year players for their ability to fill in for Williamson. Kaifes led the way with 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting. Bujdoso was less effective, only scoring four points and picking up four fouls.
“I thought the young guys stepped up today and played really well,” Custer said. “They weren’t scared of the moment at all. This is a tough place to play against a city rival. I thought they did a great job”
Loyola struggled containing UIC’s guards, as Marcus Ottey scored 20 and Godwin Boahen put up 16 points for the Flames. Throughout the season, Williamson has been praised for his defensive ability by Moser and his teammates. While Kaifes managed to fill in on offense, replacing Williamson’s defense and rebounding was the biggest challenge.
Coming into the game against UIC, Loyola had given up an average of 64.9 points per game. Without Williamson, Loyola gave up 64 points to UIC. But the most noticeable impact of losing Williamson was in rebounding.
With Williamson in the lineup, Loyola gave up 7.4 offensive rebounds per game, but UIC grabbed 13 offensive rebounds after also averaging 7.4 on the season. On the flip side, Loyola only grabbed two offensive boards against UIC, which showed the Ramblers missed Williamson’s team-high 10 offensive boards.
The timeline of Williamson’s injury would put him back in the lineup as Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) play gets underway. MVC season is scheduled to begin Jan. 2, which means Williamson could return at a crucial part of the season as Loyola tries to return to the NCAA Tournament.