Houston Baptist will play without standout center Josh Ibarra on Wednesday at McKale Center, giving the Arizona Wildcats yet another advantage in their season opener.
The Huskies of Houston finished with the No. 346 RPI last season in part because Ibarra was lost to a leg injury nine games into the season, and coach Ron Cottrell said Tuesday that Ibarra is still working his way back from the injury.
“We’re going to hold him out for a little while longer,” Cottrell said. “We don’t want to try to rush it. It’s an ongoing thing and there’s no reason to push it right now.”
The 6-foot-10, 270-pound Ibarra was named a preseason all-Southland Conference second team pick last month, and Cottrell said he gives the Huskies unusual size and skills in the post for the level his team plays at.
"His size, his length, you just don't find many guys on our level in Division I who are are mobile and can do the things he does," Cottrell said. "He's almost a throwback guy."
Cottrell said he hoped to have Ibarra back for Southland Conference play, if not before. Until then, the Huskies are busy testing themselves by playing high-major teams Arizona, Wisconsin and Wake Forest.
“We don’t back away from playing anybody, anywhere,” Cottrell said. “It’s really good preparation for our guys. Our league is a really tough, athletic league.”
Cottrell said playing the high-major games also help with exposure, the budget and recruiting, since the program recruits nationally. Ibarra’s replacement at center, Edward Hardt, is from Phoenix Moon Valley High School.
Three Pac-12 players made the Wooden Award watch list: Oregon's Payton Pritchard, UCLA's Kris Wilkes and USC's Bennie Boatwright.