This weekend is shaping up to be one of the most epic in recent memory, from a combined standpoint, for the University of Utah’s men’s and women’s basketball programs.

Unfortunately, neither squad will be at full strength for what will be the final regular-season games at the Huntsman Center for both teams, games that have been packaged as double-headers.

“I would be surprised if he plays, I will just put it that way. I am not saying something couldn’t change. You know how those things can go. They can change pretty rapidly, sometimes. But we are not holding our breath.” — Utah coach Craig Smith on point guard Rollie Worster’s ankle injury

The Pac-12’s fourth-place Utah’s men’s team will almost certainly be without starting point guard Rollie Worster and starting shooting guard Gabe Madsen against No. 4 UCLA on Thursday (9 p.m.) and third-place USC on Saturday (6 p.m.) for Senior Night.

The No. 8-ranked Utah women’s team could possibly be without superstar forward Alissa Pili for Thursday’s game against California (5 p.m.) and/or Saturday’s monumental showdown with No. 3 Stanford (noon).

What a bummer for both programs, coaches of each squad said Tuesday when they met with reporters at the Huntsman Center.

Utah’s women’s team wrapped up a practice just before the news conferences, and Pili (who missed Sunday’s 74-69 win over Arizona State with a sprained ankle) was present and did some light shooting and work on the stationary bike, but did not participate in any contact drills.

Runnin’ Utes on the air


No. 4 UCLA (23-4, 14-2)
at Utah (17-11, 10-7)
Thursday, 9 p.m. MST
At Jon M. Huntsman Center
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: ESPN 700


“Hopefully she can go. We are not sure yet. She has not been cleared. She has a sprained ankle. We tried to get her into some shooting today, but it was sore. So, I don’t know,” Utah women’s basketball coach Lynne Roberts said. “Hopefully she can play, but it is one of those, ‘hope for the best, prepare for the worst’ deals.”

The Utes should be OK without Pili for Cal, which is 13-14 overall and 4-12 in Pac-12 play, but the National Player of the Year candidate will certainly be needed against Pac-12-leading Stanford (26-3, 14-2).

Thursday’s game against the Bears will mark the return of former Ute Kemery Martin, who prepped at Draper’s Corner Canyon High. Martin is averaging 10.7 points for Cal, second-highest on the team behind Jayda Curry (14.7 ppg.).

Coach Craig Smith updates Worster’s status

Worster reaggravated the same left ankle sprain he dealt with last summer early in the second half of Utah’s 67-59 loss at Arizona State last Saturday. Smith said the junior, who is Utah’s fifth-leading scorer (8.7 ppg.) and leading passer (142 assists) is doubtful for both games, but noted that stranger things have happened in regard to ankle injuries.

“There is nothing structural (damaged),” Smith said. “So I guess we will just see. We did a light practice (Monday) and he didn’t do anything. I would be surprised if he plays, I will just put it that way.

“I am not saying something couldn’t change. You know how those things can go. They can change pretty rapidly, sometimes,” Smith added. “But we are not holding our breath.”

Smith said Worster, the transfer from Utah State, “has dealt with this before” and knows what it is.

Related
How Utah’s version of ‘Stef’ discovered orange chicken — and a home for his basketball skills
Analysis: Runnin’ Utes bedeviled by point guard’s injury, turnovers in loss at Arizona State

“Rollie is as tough as they come. I mean, he is a competitive, competitive guy,” Smith said. “When he went down against Arizona State, just how he reacted, and watching him, and seeing him, if he can’t go, you know it is probably not a great thing. Because he is one who will power through it, typically.”

Without naming Worster’s replacement in the starting lineup, Smith noted that freshman Wil Exacte Jr. and senior Bostyn Holt could see expanded roles.

Asked why junior Mike Saunders Jr., the 6-foot point guard transfer from Cincinnati, doesn’t play more, Smith responded: “He’s just got to get better, be better, more consistent, and produce. (Players) have to be able to produce and impact winning consistently (to get playing time).”

What about Gabe Madsen?

Madsen sustained his high ankle sprain a month ago this Saturday, and a few days after that Smith said doctors and trainers told him the redshirt sophomore would be out four to six weeks. Tuesday, Smith said he “would not anticipate” either Worster or Madsen playing this week.

“So the combination of losing the two of them … yeah, it changes things,” Smith said.

The second-year coach said he’s conducted a lot of staff meetings the past few days to adjust to the prospects of having a makeshift front court around sophomore Lazar Stefanovic.

Utah women on the air


California (13-14, 4-12)
at No. 8 Utah (23-3, 13-3)
Thursday, 5 p.m. MST
At Jon M. Huntsman Center
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: ESPN 700


“It is a fine line of reinventing yourself in Game 29, and then just figuring out who can fill what roles, and everything is in play right now,” Smith said. “Everybody is in play, like always, and everything is in play. … We are just really locking into who can be successful in (different) situations.”

That having been noted, Smith said he still believes Madsen will see the floor again this season.

“He is making good progress. Honestly, the biggest thing with Gabe is telling him not to do too much. And we knew that would be what his mindset would be. I would anticipate him being back at some point,” Smith said. “I would be shocked if it is this week, but anything can happen.”

Utah guard Gabe Madsen celebrates with teammate Rollie Worster after scoring during a college basketball game at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023. Both players are nursing injuries and unlikely to play in this week’s games against UCLA and USC. | Ryan Sun, Deseret News