In the midst of a four-game losing streak, the Wolf Pack has more questions than answers.
“We need some confidence,” said Nevada guard D.J. Fenner after the 70-54 loss at the hands of Utah State on Tuesday, Jan. 20.
“We didn’t play hard enough,” said Wolf Pack point guard Coleman.
“We were definitely frustrated,” said Nevada center AJ West.
“It seems like we’ve gone back to November, early December offensively,” said Nevada head coach David Carter. “It seems like we’ve gotten tentative. “We’re missing shots that are wide open. It seems like after the UNLV game we’ve gone backwards, and that’s mind-boggling. We were playing so well going into Fresno.”
All four explanations point to why the Wolf Pack (6-12, 2-4 Mountain West) is currently in ninth place in the Mountain West Conference.
Against the Aggies, starters Fenner (1-of-11), Coleman (2-of-11) and Michael Perez (0- for-5) shot a combined 3-of-27 from the field.
The abysmal shooting performance led to Carter shaking up the starting lineup on Saturday, Jan. 24 against Fresno State. He benched Fenner and Coleman — two of the team’s top-three leading scorers — in favor of junior Tyron Criswell and freshman Eric Cooper Jr., respectively.
The switch paid dividends as Cooper banged four three-pointers en route to a 20-point effort, while Criswell chipped in 19 points. In spite of the infusion of scoring, Nevada still came up empty, losing 66-62 to the same Bulldogs team that began its losing skid more than two weeks ago.
Coming off of the bench for the first time this season, Coleman dropped 10 points in 31 minutes, while an illness limited Fenner to four minutes on the court. It’s unclear what the starting lineup will be going forward.
Cooper’s four shots from beyond the arc against Fresno State proved to be scarce for a struggling Wolf Pack squad. During its four-game losing streak Nevada has shot 10-of-62 from three-point range. The Wolf Pack’s 25 percent three-point shooting mark ranks 350th in the entire nation. Only Alcorn State is shooting worse this season.
“It’s tough as a coach because I can’t shoot for them,” Carter said. “We’re getting good looks. It’s not like teams are stifling us.”
West remains the lone consistency on offense. The 6-foot-9 center is leading the team in scoring with 12.1 points a game (13th in the conference). West has tallied a team-best 56 points the past four games.
“[West] is our only consistent offensive player,” Carter said. “But he still needs someone to get him the ball. We can’t count on him to score 30 or 40 points.”
Although bad shooting nights have been a trend for Nevada all season long, turning the ball over is becoming a second weakness. The Wolf Pack had 18 turnovers against Utah State, followed by 15 against Fresno State.
“We can’t turn the ball over against teams that are not pressing,” Carter said. “You’re giving away possessions. It’s about the will to score. Confidence comes with making baskets.”
Looking to get its season back on track, the Wolf Pack welcomes rival UNLV tonight. The Rebels (11-9, 2-5 MW) are coming off of an overtime win against Utah State.
Nevada’s season has taken a nosedive since its 64-62 triumph over the Rebels on Jan. 7. The Wolf Pack will attempt to win its first game in nearly four weeks and extends its winning streak over UNLV to four games.
One-third of the way into its conference schedule, Nevada seems to have reached a breaking point. In the thick of adversity, Carter questions whether there’s enough leadership on the floor.
“You can’t make leaders,” he said. “You can’t just select a guy and say, ‘You’re going to be a leader.’ It just doesn’t work that way.”
Carter said that the way the Wolf Pack practices and plays when the lights come on are different, but he remains confident that the team has what it takes to turn the season around.
“I’ve seen every one of them play well,” Carter said of his players. “I’ve seen us collectively play well in a hostile environment, so I know it’s in there. What’s frustrating is that it’s not being consistent.”
Eric Uribe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Uribe_Eric.