Tony Bennett

Freshman Jack Salt adds some physicality to Virginia’s summer pickup games

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The 2013-14 season was a special one for Tony Bennett’s Virginia Cavaliers, as they won the ACC title and received a one-seed in the NCAA tournament. The Cavaliers’ season may have come to an end in the Sweet 16 with a loss to Michigan State, but their 30 wins (16-2 ACC) represent the most compiled by a UVA squad since Terry Holland’s 1981-82 team finished its season with a 30-4 record.

The question heading into the summer for Virginia: who will step forward to help Bennett account for the graduation of guard Joe Harris and forward Akil Mitchell? While the Cavaliers return every other key contributor from last year’s team, including guards Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes, this is an important question to address.

With regards to Mitchell, who posted averages of 6.8 points and a team-best 7.0 rebounds per game in 2013-14, Virginia doesn’t lack for front court options heading into 2014-15. Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey and Darion Atkins were all members of the rotation last season, and three of Virginia’s four incoming freshmen are 6-foot-8 or taller.

One of those four newcomers is 6-foot-10 power forward Jack Salt, who arrives in Charlottesville by way of New Zealand. And according to Whitelaw Reid of the Charlottesville Daily Progress, Salt’s experience playing basketball against players with rugby backgrounds helped him make an impact physically in the team’s pickup games before heading back to New Zealand to try out for the national team.

Salt’s approach to the game is just fine with U.Va. coach Tony Bennett. He believes upperclassmen Mike Tobey and Darion Atkins could use a little pushing around from the 6-foot-10, 240-pound Kiwi.

“I think he’ll really challenge, physically in practice, the Tobeys, the Atkins and those guys — just because he’s very continuous,” Bennett said. “He may foul out in one possession, but I love it. That’s part of learning — in a good way, I think. I like guys that are aggressive.”

Also noted in the story was the possibility of Salt redshirting due to the experienced players ahead of him in the rotation. But that doesn’t mean he can’t help the Cavaliers in practice as they look to make a run at a second consecutive ACC title. Atkins, Gill and Tobey will need to step forward if that’s to occur, and having that physical competition will not only help them but also help Salt as he gets acclimated to the Virginia program and college basketball in general.

“He’s got to become a little more smoother,” Bennett said in Reid’s story, “but you can you can see in the limited time we’ve worked with him that he’s real physical and just wants to do whatever he can to help. And you need that — guys who embrace roles. I think I see him figuring stuff out over time.”

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.