MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Hampered by what coaches described as a lower-back strain, forward Esa Ahmad was not aboard West Virginia’s charter flight on Friday when it left for a two-game road swing to TCU and Baylor.
After the sophomore and team’s second-leading scorer failed to regain enough mobility to play meaningful minutes this weekend, the plan was to spare him the travel in hopes he could return to action next week.
Ahmad did not dress for last Monday’s 77-62 victory over Texas. That followed Ahmad playing only 20 minutes during a double-overtime win over Texas Tech last Saturday.
“If he’s still having problems, why would you take him on the road? Why would you put him on a plane for three hours?” Huggins said Thursday night on his weekly radio show.
“Let’s be honest: He didn’t help us in the Texas Tech game because he kept spasming and coming out of the game. He played 20 minutes, and admittedly he didn’t play very well, because it kept grabbing him. Every time he’d start to make a cut he grabbed the back of his legs or his back.”
The Mountaineers (22-6, 10-5 Big 12) expect an inspired effort Saturday from TCU (17-11, 6-9), which needs a strong finish to make the NCAA tournament field.
On Monday night, second place in the league could be at stake when WVU visits Baylor.
Huggins cautioned that Friday’s pre-flight practice in Morgantown could be the determining factor after Ahmad hadn’t shown he was ready to play full-speed again.
“I don’t think he could help us win the way he is right now,” the coach said. “Maybe we’re better served to leave him here, hopefully let him get well to where he can play the Iowa State game, get back in some semblance of game shape, and get ready for the conference tournament.”
While the 6-foot-8 Ahmad scores 11.7 points per game by creating shoot-or-drive mismatches, West Virginia’s depth provides other lineup options.
“It’s a tradeoff,” Huggins said. “Without Esa, we’re not going to rebound it as well or score around the goal as well, but I think our pressure should be a lot better.”