By Chris Boline
After entering Lawlor Events Center in a veil of mist and under the cover of darkness, the Pack basketball team experienced a familiar taste: heartbreak.
Despite all the smoke and parlor show theatrics, the Nevada basketball team came up empty again last Friday evening. After leading for a good majority of the contest, the Wolf Pack lost its home opener against the University of Pacific, 80-78, in the waning seconds of the game. While Nevada extended its losing streak (dating back from last season) to nine games, there were some positive aspects for a team of fresh faces, even in defeat, that will grow for the rest of the season.
Last season, the Wolf Pack was 3-13 in conference play and averaged 33.2 rebounds per game as a team. The rebounding margin was also negative on the season (-1.7) and will be a big key moving forward, especially with seven brand-new players (four new frontcourt members).
“I think they did well tonight (against Pacific),” said point guard Deonte Burton. “Rebounding is a team thing, and you can’t look at your bigs and say ‘Well they just didn’t play rebound’ because it’s about all of us.”
Another key facet that the team still needs to work and adjust on is the defensive end. While Nevada averaged 67.5 points per game last season, they were outscored by an average margin of nearly five points per game. In addition to rebounding, this is what newly-eligible transfer player Michael Perez feels will be most helpful to Nevada.
“I feel like we can always get better at defense, and tonight showed that,” Perez said.
Similar to the football team, Wolf Pack basketball has to find ways to score. Nevada was nearly 11 points above its season average from last season in the game against the Tigers and has multiple playmakers that are headlined by Burton and Perez. Aside from the two guards, the Wolf Pack big men showed a better offensive touch with Ali Fall chipping in six points, and six-foot-eight swingman Jerry Evans Jr. adding 13 points of his own.
“Offensively, we did pretty well,” Perez said. “We played well enough to win the game, but it was just little things that took it away from us.”
The biggest variable that a stat sheet or depth chart can’t really tell you is game experience. The Wolf Pack has five players from last year with significant experience on the court (Burton, Evans, Fall, Cole Huff and Marqueze Coleman), and with that, the biggest key to their success might be time.
“We have to learn how to close games out,” said head coach David Carter. “It’s just the first game of the year; we played well and competed hard.”
As far as the starting line-up is concerned, coach Carter anticipated that he would not have to use Evans and Huff as the starting big men for the rest of the season. Their usage was mainly focused on the match-up problems that Pacific provided.
“There are a lot of different things you have to recognize and prepare for,” Carter said. “I thought our bigs competed, considering that they don’t have a lot of game experience.”
Looking ahead, Nevada will have a handful of marquee non-conference matchups this season: at the Continental Las Vegas Invitational at the end of November, Nevada will square off with UCLA and Missouri. Also later down the road, the Pack will travel to Berkeley, Calif. to face Cal.
Moving forward, Nevada will look past the loss and last year’s disappointment.
“We’re going to learn a lot from this game,” Carter said. “You obviously don’t want to lose on your home floor, but Pacific is a very good team, and you have to give them some credit too.”
Chris Boline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.