Jonah Antonio said he’s ready to go, and his return would provide a spark to UNLV as it plays its final three nonconference games.
The next of those is against Pacific (10-3) at 7 p.m. Wednesday, the first game for UNLV (4-7) at the Thomas & Mack Center since Nov. 26 and first anywhere since Dec. 7.
UNLV’s 11-day break benefited Antonio in his effort to return to the court. He has missed the past six games with an injury to his left thumb, depriving the Rebels of one of their top outside shooters.
“I felt I could’ve helped win a couple games there,” Antonio said. “It’s tough. It’s terrible, actually.”
Though Antonio said he was healthy and has kept himself in game shape, coach T.J. Otzelberger was more careful when talking how his junior guard could be used.
“He’s been in practice the last two days,” Otzelberger said Tuesday. “It seems like his hand’s feeling OK, but we’re going to handle his injury with a lot of caution.”
Antonio suffered a slight tear in a thumb ligament, which he said was weakened by a previous similar injury, at a practice before the Nov. 12 game at California. Because the injury was on his nonshooting hand, Antonio played through the pain and even made 3 of 5 3-pointers at Cal, but then went a combined 1 of 8 from 3 at UCLA and against Abilene Christian.
Catching passes increased the pain and altered his shooting rhythm, and it made him less aggressive in going after rebounds. He had no rebounds against Cal and UCLA and two against Abilene Christian.
So UNLV shut down Antonio until his thumb healed.
Getting him back will allow the Rebels to better space the floor.
“He’s a proven shooter and one of the guys you don’t want to leave open for a catch-and-shoot 3,” guard Amauri Hardy said. “Even in transition, (defenders) are running back to Jonah, not necessarily to the paint. So even in transition you might have some drives here and there.”
UNLV not only has been without Antonio, but the Rebels lost guard Elijah Mitrou-Long also to an injured left thumb before the Dec. 4 game at Fresno State. Mitrou-Long won’t return for at least a month.
No player wants to be hurt, but if an injury was to occur, the timing was fortuitous for Antonio.
He had this extended break to further heal, and he should be ready for when Mountain West play begins full time on Jan. 1 against Utah State at the Thomas & Mack.
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