In a season that has been largely filled with disappointment, good news has been hard to come by for this year's UNLV Runnin' Rebels team, however they received some Sunday that could go a long way in potentially saving their season.
Freshman forward Stephen Zimmerman has been cleared to return to practice.
As first reported by the Review Journals Mark Anderson, here, there's still no definite time table as to when he will be cleared for game action, but this is a very good step in the right direction. Zimmerman is the only true post player left on the shorthanded Rebels roster.
When he went down with a sprained knee against Fresno State, UNLV was forced to go small and rely on the undersized Dwayne Morgan and Derrick Jones to play the post. While both performed admirably, neither of them possesses the offensive and defensive skill that the 7-footer brings to the court.
Zimmerman was averaging 10.6 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks per game before his injury, and even though UNLV managed to go 3-2 without their star center, his production on the court was sorely missed. Also, his return has added importance due to Dwayne Morgan suffering a shoulder injury during shoot around before the game against Reno.
With Morgan out, the Rebels were left with only 6 scholarship players available and both Patrick McCaw and Jordan Cornish were required to play every minute of the thrilling overtime victory against the Wolfpack. Morgan was scheduled to have an MRI on Monday to determine the severity of the injury. For the Rebels sake, hopefully Morgan's injury isn't season ending.
If Morgan is sidelined for any amount of time, the Rebels go back to being extremely short handed in the front court. Zimmerman will likely be required to play 40 minutes a game and stay out of foul trouble, which will be physically draining for the big man given that UNLV will be required to likely play four games in four days during the conference tournament if they are going to make it to the NCAA's.
UNLV enters the home stretch of the regular season with games at Boise St, home against Wyoming and the season finale at rival San Diego State. Hopefully for UNLV, Zimmerman is able to return to the court for at least one of these games.
It would be paramount for the Rebels if Zimmerman can come back and get his legs and game conditioning back prior to the tournament starting because he is going to be asked to log a lot of minutes. Assuming they don't lose the first day, which is a possibility given this team's penchant for playing down to its competition and its lack of depth.