Just when UA interim head coach Kevin O'Neill was wiping the dust off a dozen plays designed for use without now-injured guard Nic Wise on Thursday, he noticed that forward Jamelle Horne's left knee was swelling.
So, considering the hex his Wildcats appear to be under, O'Neill kept Horne out of practice, had his knee wrapped in ice and arranged for the freshman to have an MRI today.
Horne may well have nothing serious, and could even play on Sunday, pending the test results, O'Neill said. But this is a team that already went without Jerryd Bayless for four games, three of them losses after the freshman sprained his knee, and is now looking at least four weeks without point guard Nic Wise because of his torn meniscus.
So O'Neill is bracing for the worst.
"He had considerable swelling," O'Neill said. "He could have gone today but I elected not to let him go. I wanted to make sure there's nothing wrong in there before we let him go."
The odd thing is, the pain for all three players came from relatively tame activities. Bayless was making a simple cut during a practice at Memphis on Dec. 28 when he sprained his knee, Wise was warming up for the UA-USC game on Jan. 31 when he felt a tweak and Horne, well, nobody's really sure what happened to Horne.
Horne's knee swelled up before Thursday's practice, indicating he might have hurt it Wednesday … but the Wildcats mostly just did light walk-through drills and light shooting during that workout.
So maybe Tuesday? Who knows? O'Neill doesn't even want to think about it.
"This is unbelievable, isn't it?" O'Neill said. "But you know what? It is what it is."
Even with Horne, the Wildcats figure to be short-staffed the rest of the Pac-10 season. Wise is not expected back until at least March 6 at Oregon State and forward Bret Brielmaier has ongoing shoulder pain that will keep him out for Sunday's game against ASU and probably several others.
"I don't think you'll see him at 100 percent for the rest of the season," O'Neill said.
Though Horne has played key roles in some matchups while appearing in six of nine conference games, the Wildcats can probably limp by somewhat without him thanks to the availability of forward Fendi Onobun and center Kirk Walters, as well as guard Jawann McClellan's ability to play either forward spot.
But the Wildcats still have a major issue in solving their point guard void without Wise. O'Neill began trying different combinations during a nearly two-hour practice Thursday, saying he will bring back 10-12 different plays that were designed for use when Wise is not on the floor.
Since Wise has been averaging over 34 minutes in Pac-10 play, those plays have become dormant.
"We're gonna run a lot of things we haven't run all year long," O'Neill said. "We've run them in practice, because I always believe you should run 8 or 10 things all the time, even when you don't use them, so you prepare when a guy goes down."
At the same time, O'Neill began shifting Bayless back into a full-time point guard, after he's played mostly off the ball with Wise in the lineup, and also converting Chase Budinger to a secondary point guard role. He said he would not use senior Daniel Dillon, formerly a combo guard, at the point. The Wildcats' only other point guard at the beginning of the season, Laval Lucas-Perry, transferred to Michigan in December.
"I'm just looking at our choices," O'Neill said. "Do I think Chase is going to give us a steady diet of running up the floor? No. … (But) I think Chase will do well as a point guard. He has a good feel for the game."
Once he did start getting out there at point guard Wednesday, Budinger said he was surprised to realize he knew how to run most of the plays from that position, and that his occasional experience at the point last season helped.
But it was still different.
"This is actually kind of new, the first time he's really put me at the point guard position," Budinger said. "Before Nic was always healthy and we had Laval before that. … KO had to go to a different thing. Nic brought a lot of drive and kick for us, got me and Jerryd a lot of open shots. So that's what we're going to miss."
The idea, of course, is to allow Bayless as much offensive freedom as possible, since he's proven more valuable to the team off the ball. But even when he's at point guard, O'Neill said, he'll have to have that same offensive mentality.
"What Jerryd has to be is a straight scoring point guard," O'Neill said. "That's the bottom line. He's going to have to be more aggressive, maybe a little more selfish in terms of looking for his own shots. But we still need to share the ball."
Bayless, who never blinks at a challenge, said he's ready for it.
"I'm gonna try to be a little bit more aggressive and make plays," Bayless said. Being a scoring point guard "is cool with me. Whatever it takes to win."