The Wyoming Cowboys three game winning streak should have been a celebration. Instead most players and fans left Arena-Auditorium with a lump in their stomach. That was due to Larry Nance Jr. collapsing on the court with 15 minutes left in the game. Nance lay on the ground clutching his right knee and immediately called for help from the Wyoming bench. According to the radio broadcast Nance yelled "Oh my god" when suffering the injury.
The Cowboys knocked off a Fresno State team that was riding a five game winning streak. The Cowboys won 72-66 and improved to 17-9 (8-5 MW). The Bulldogs went on a 7-2 run after Nance left the game, yet the Pokes fought back and gutted out the victory. It is hard to imagine how many victories Wyoming will be able to achieve without their star player. Nance currently leads the team in points, rebounds, blocks and steals.
"As I tried to remind Larry [Nance Jr.] and our team, he's going to be back in four to five months even if it does prove to be a severe injury," UW head coach Larry Shyatt said. "But this is something he can catapult from, and we can catapult from. We're going to overcome. Larry's going to overcome this, and we're going to have a cause greater than anybody else. We have to look a little deeper. We never understand why at times like this, but we can have a cause greater than ourselves now -- the Larry Nance cause."
Nance will have an MRI on Wednesday, after the game Larry Shyatt was expecting him to be out four to five months. That is likely a best case scenario, depending on what all was torn - it may be longer. There is never a good time for a major injury like this to your star player. However, Wyoming was literally playing it's best basketball of the season after knocking off #5 San Diego State last week. Their defense held San Jose State to just nine points in the second half last Saturday. The Cowboys were going to be one of the most dangerous teams in the Mountain West Conference tournament next month. Now they'll likely be struggling to reach 20 wins.
Perhaps that is being too negative, still it is hard to see how many games Wyoming would have won without Nance this year. There is plenty of talent on the team and players take turns stepping up. Nathan Sobey had a career high 26 points tonight. Riley Grabau is one of the best free throw shooters in the country at 90%. He and Granberry are both shooting over 40% from behind the arc. Derek Cooke is really improving on his offensive game. Josh Adams is shooting 49% from the field and leads the team in assists.
The physical play of teams like New Mexico and UNLV will give Wyoming fits. It will be tough to guard the paint without Nance. The Cowboys are already awful at offensive rebounding, they've been out rebounded 135-270 so far this year. Don't expect that stat to improve with Nance gone.
I would imagine Charles Hankerson will get the starting nod in the lineup in place on Nance. The Alabama transfer has shown some nice flashes off the bench this year. Now is his chance to step up and show why he was one of the top recruits in the nation coming out of high school.
Best wishes go out to Larry. He is not only a heck of a basketball player, he is also a role model and ambassador for the University of Wyoming. We hope to see him back on the court as soon as possible.