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Memphis defeats LSU, will face Oklahoma State in championship game of the Old Spice Classic

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Memphis failed in their first test of the season losing big to Oklahoma State, but passed their second one against a solid LSU team by the score of 76-69 in the semifinals of the Old Spice Classic. With the win, Memphis will now have another shot against Oklahoma State on Sunday evening.

Much of the talk about Memphis revolves around their guard play, namely Joe Jackson, Michael Dixon, and Chris Crawford. Against LSU, however, freshman forward Austin Nichols was the story. Nichols finished with 19 points and pulled down eight rebounds to lead the Tigers. The fact that Nichols has gotten off to such a nice start as a freshman — he is averaging 17 points and 7.3 rebounds in the past three games — is of critical importance, especially considering that fellow freshman big man Dominic Woodson is still adjusting to the college game.

Woodson is a big body standing at 6-foot-10 and weighing 310 pounds, and young big men often take longer to develop than other players. When Shaq Goodwin went to the bench in the first half with foul trouble, Woodson came in and took a couple of bad shots and picked up two fouls. Pastner yanked him after the second foul and he never saw any time in the second half.

Memphis is a guard oriented team, everyone knows that. But, the emergence of Nichols in the frontcourt to go along with the already solid Shaq Goodwin, makes Memphis a much better team in the half court due to their post play.

Things looked bleak midway through the second half as LSU extended their lead to 57-49 on a Malik Morgan layup, but Memphis responded with a quick 11-2 run over a two minute stretch to take the lead 60-59. Nichols had key buckets on consecutive possessions to fuel the run.

The knock on Memphis and Josh Pastner has been their inability to win big games. Pastner has had little issue running through Conference USA with ease during the past two seasons, but earning victories in the non-conference portion of their schedule against quality opponents hasn’t been easy. With Memphis making the transition to the AAC and facing the likes of Louisville, UConn, and Cincinnati, they won’t have the luxury of feasting on mediocre competition.

Tonight was definitely a step in the right direction for Pastner and the Tigers. They responded well when LSU doubled their halftime advantage from four to eight midway through the second half and showed poise down the stretch, which hasn’t always been the case for Pastner-coached teams. On the surface, a win over LSU may not seem like much, but LSU was coming off a dominating win over St. Joseph’s and figures to be one of the top teams in the SEC.

In the championship game of the Old Spice Classic on Sunday, Memphis will look to avenge their 101-80 loss to Oklahoma State less than two weeks ago.

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.