Stopping the bleeding is what Nevada needed and that’s what they did this Saturday against Air Force.
How emphatic the wound was bandaged was evidenced by the 19-point pummeling of the Falcons, but this was also against a team at the bottom of the Mountain West totem pole. The Pack’s efforts this season have become a mystery to everyone involved in its sophomore effort in the MWC.
From fumbling its way through a forgettable non-conference schedule, its charge at the beginning of conference play coinciding with the emergence of AJ West and their most recent losing-skid have Nevada fans scratching their heads. Who is to blame for the team’s recent turn of events? None other than the players who have to hold the weight of head coach David Carter’s future on their shoulders.
With the toughest three-game slate against members of the top tier of the Mountain West (New Mexico, Boise State and UNLV), Nevada and coach Carter knew what was at take against Air Force, especially after falling to a lackadaisical San Jose State team at home earlier in the week.
“(We needed this win) real bad,” Carter said. “We wanted to come and play well so we feel good about ourselves.”
Indeed, Carter’s bunch earned the victory over the outmatched with Falcons, but with how things have been going prior to the win, one has to wonder what is the root of the Pack’s problems. The easy answers are that teams have found out a way to corral both AJ West and the electric Deonte Burton (who just notched his 2,000th point of his Nevada career against Air Force,) that the supporting cast of the Pack hasn’t matured yet or the Mountain West is just too loaded this year (the most plausible).
However, the player’s attitudes towards the season have seemed to shift away what goes on during practices and games to what they are doing after it.
Over the course of the season, the Nevada players have made the usual pit stops that all college students make: going out and partying with the rest of the crowd has left a notion that the athletes might just be disinterested in playing for a school that is funding their college education in most cases, in its entirety. When the senior leaders of the basketball team are attending more functions at the Wal than putting up baskets, something is amiss.
Although to be fair these are college students at the end of the day and I’m sure they like to have a good time as much as anyone. Carter has acknowledged that the team has lost a great bit of confidence over the losing streak, but they still manage to goof off in interviews with the Reno Gazette-Journal.
What’s even more confusing is knowing that the players understand what is at stake, especially for two key seniors (Burton and Jerry Evans Jr.) but they still manage to joke around knowing what the outcome will likely be if they don’t turn things around.
Another factor for the season is that Carter’s criticisms might have left a mark on the players. The coach referred to his players last season that team “quit” and in turn four of those athletes transferred to different schools at the end of the year.
Although Burton wasn’t one of those that left, he still came in with all of them as a freshman and the group was expected to lift the team higher than it ever has been as long as they blossomed over their four to five years with Nevada.
All of that changed last season when the team blew up and some holdovers might still have mixed feelings about the man who brought them in. Although Carter has never publicly said that the squad has “given up” there are times when it seems the team is downright exhausted.
Burton has played the second-most minutes in the nation and the starting four of Burton, Evans, Michael Perez and Cole Huff are rotating less and less with the bench. The extra week off for the team will be critical in the final stretch.
However, Carter does have the backing of athletic director Doug Knuth who commented that various “pieces of puzzle” started to come into place when the Pack made its run last month. With the whiteout game coming up against New Mexico and the season finale against UNLV, there is much to play for in the regular season. It’s up to the fans to come out and support and also the players to fulfill their end, but the future of coach Carter is up in the air.
Chris Boline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.