Kirk Williams Bairstow Thomas Greenwood

New Mexico loses to No. 13 Kansas as Big Three’s supporting cast struggle

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No. 13 Kansas got 21 points and nine boards from Perry Ellis to lead four players in double figures as the Jayhawks upended a good New Mexico team in Kansas City, 80-63.

There were a number of good signs for Bill Self’s team on Saturday. Naadir Tharpe played really well, especially down the stretch of the second half as Kansas pulled away. He finished with eight points and nine assists, facilitating the Kansas offense and getting the ball to the hot hand in a position that he could score. I liked the analogy that ESPN commentator Fran Fraschilla made: the point guard spot is the key for Kansas, and while Frank Mason is talented, he’s their third-down back right now. Tharpe needs to be the guy that’s running the show.

He was tonight, and we saw what the Jayhawks can be.

My bigger concern is with New Mexico.

We all know that this group has a Big Three: Kendall Williams at the point and big boys Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk in the paint. Bairstow and Williams showed up today, notching 24 points each. Kirk was in foul trouble the whole game, which was one of the deciding factors. When he was out, it gave Ellis and Joel Embiid — who finished with 18 points — a chance to dominate the paint. When he was in, he couldn’t play defense the way he wanted to play defense for fear of picking up another foul.

That may have decided the game, but it also exposed an issue that could creep up on New Mexico this season: role players. Hugh Greenwood is not shooting the ball well. Cullen Neal has been inefficient and, at times, downright ineffective. Pancake Thomas hasn’t been more than “just a guy” while JuCo transfer Deshawn Delaney has been a disappointment.

When UNM’s Big Three are all playing well, this group is going to be tough to beat. But the fact of the matter is that there are going to be nights like this. Kirk is going to get into some foul trouble or Williams is going to shoot the ball poorly? Who are the guys that step up and make playing? Who fills that void? Tonight, the rest of the New Mexico roster combined to score 10 points on 2-for-18 shooting.

Noodles needs role players to, well, play their role.

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.