March 8, 2013
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 is hopeful that Cherry, who re-injured the foot he broke before the season began in an overtime loss at Davidson, can return in time for the Big Sky tournament. If the senior guard is able to return 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.