Mathias Ward, Paul Egwuonwu

Montana forward Mathias Ward done for year after undergoing foot surgery

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Wayne Tinkle’s Montana Grizzlies have managed to hang onto sole possession of first place in the Big Sky despite late-season injuries to seniors Will Cherry and Mathias Ward.

And if the Grizzlies are to win the Big Sky tournament next week they’ll have to do so without their best front court player, as Ward underwent surgery on his foot Wednesday. As a result of the procedure the 6-7 senior’s college career is over, leaving a major hole in Montana’s front court rotation.

In 24 games this season Ward averaged 14.8 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, shooting 51% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc. Ward, the team’s leading scorer, hasn’t played since suffering the injury in a February 16 win at Idaho State.

“It was a deal where we were thinking about his future and getting that surgery done so that he might have opportunities to play in the future,” Tinkle said in a statement released by the school.

“It’s just too bad it had to happen late in the season in his senior year. We will definitely miss him out on the floor.”

With Ward sidelined Montana has won two of the three games that he’s missed, averaging 81.3 points per game. In wing Kareem Jamar the Grizzlies have one of the Big Sky’s best players, and with both Ward and Cherry out players such as Jordan Gregory and Keron DeShields have been asked to raise their offensive production.

Spencer Coleman and Mike Weisner have seen an increase in their minutes due to Ward’s injury, with Coleman averaging 12.7 points and 5.3 rebounds over the last three games.

Montana expects Cherry, who re-injured the foot he broke before the season began in an overtime loss at Davidson, to return for the Big Sky tournament. If the senior guard hits the ground running when he returns and both Coleman and Weisner take advantage of their increased opportunities inside, the Grizzlies will be capable of repeating as Big Sky champions.

But given the depth that Weber State has at its disposal, the loss of Ward makes Montana’s quest all the more difficult.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.