TUCSON, Ariz. — Kenny Wooten was back on the basketball court sooner than expected, but the wait was still longer than the Oregon sophomore had planned.
Twenty-seven days after fracturing his jaw in a loss to Baylor, Wooten returned to help Oregon beat Arizona 59-54 on Thursday night at McKale Center. Wooten came off the bench to give the Ducks five points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots in 25 minutes.
“He was wanting to do it before we played the L.A. schools (last week),” UO coach Dana Altman said. “His family said if he’s ready, he’s ready.”
However, Wooten did not get cleared by a doctor until Tuesday, just a couple of hours after Altman told the media he did not think that he’d have the 6-foot-9 forward to face the Wildcats. The original timetable for Wooten’s return was four to six weeks, but he went through his first full practice since the injury on Wednesday.
Wooten is adjusting to wearing a facemask for precautionary reasons as the Ducks (11-6, 2-2) prepare to visit Arizona State (12-5, 3-2) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
“He doesn’t like it, but the doctor said he can play as long as he wore that mask,” Altman said. “It is not like a part-time thing. He is going to have to wear it for another month.”
Wooten entered the game following the first timeout and made a jump shot on his first possession. He grabbed three rebounds during his first three minutes on the court.
“It was weird when he was out, but then he gets here and you see somebody jumping 100 feet in the air,” UO sophomore guard Victor Bailey said. “It is always good to have Kenny out there.”
Wooten was credited with one block and altered a few more attempts by the Wildcats, who shot 36.5 percent from the field.
“Kenny made a tremendous difference with rim protection,” Altman said. “They were looking for him. That’s a big change and it gave us a big lift. I thought he made a big difference for the 25 minutes he played.”
Oregon began the year with Wooten and 7-foot-2 freshman Bol Bol combining to average more than four blocks per game before Bol was lost for the season with a broken foot. The Ducks had a total of seven blocked shots in the four games Wooten missed.
Wooten has 21 blocks in 13 games while the other eight active scholarship players for the Ducks have combined for 26 blocked shots.
Paul White found an interesting way to describe Wooten’s impact on the game.
“You ever play a video game and on the slide you can turn something up tremendously to 99 or whatever and it it just ridiculous, almost unfair?” he said. “Then your friend gets mad, just angry. For me, it is great to have that freakish athlete that you don’t find. I think we truly have the best shot blocker in the nation. When you have skill like that with timing and athleticism, it is huge. I am proud of how he came out and played.”
Wooten was 2-for-4 from the field and added a free throw while ranking second on the team with seven rebounds.
“Kenny makes a tremendous difference on the back end,” Altman said. “Having him in there changing shots and he got some big rebounds and hit a couple shots. I thought he gave us a good lift.”