The light at the end of the tunnel for this year’s men’s basketball squad continues to dim for head coach David Carter and the rest of the Wolf Pack.
Following another winless week, Nevada is now riding a six-game losing streak and is firmly planted in the bottom third of the Mountain West. In its first game last week against in-state rival UNLV, the Wolf Pack was able to keep pace and even briefly held a lead in the second half, but the athleticism of the Rebels overwhelmed Nevada in a 67-62 finish.
Following the letdown against UNLV, the Pack traveled to Laramie, Wyoming on Saturday to face off against the Mountain West-leading Cowboys and, despite an abundance of mistakes on both ends of the court, Wyoming outlasted the young Nevada team 63-55.
There was a considerable amount of hype leading into the game against the Rebels. Nevada bested UNLV earlier in the year on the road and the Rebels’ official student fan base, the Rebellion, fired shots on social media aimed at the Wolf Pack faithful.
On game day the Nevada students turned out sin waves, filling their section to near-full capacity and the Lawlor Events Center crowd outpaced the stadium’s season average of 5,480 by a significant margin at 7,578.
However, UNLV nearly led from start to finish and aside from a brief Wolf Pack lead in the game’s final three minutes, Nevada was held at bay for most of the contest to lose the game by a margin of 67-62.
“I thought both teams competed, it came down to the last few possessions and we had some bad possessions down the stretch that led to some easy baskets for them,” Carter said.
Three Pack players finished with double-digit point totals including center AJ West who registered a double-double on the evening (15 points and 15 rebounds), but ran into foul trouble at the end of the game that limited his playing time by being held out in the last 10 minutes.
According to Carter, the loss was not the culmination of one single factor, but a variety of ailments for the Wolf Pack — including guard Tyron Criswell fouling a UNLV player across half court going for a steal and later another costly turnover which saw the ball carom out of bounds.
Guard Eric Cooper Jr. led Nevada with 16 points, but he was erratic from the field by shooting 31 percent (5-of-16). The freshman discussed his development as a point guard and how he plans on helping the team.
“I need to take better shots and get my teammates more involved throughout the game,” Cooper Jr. said.
Some good news came after the game in the form of announcing the total donation number of about $5,400 for the family of Jesus Castillo who passed away after a physical altercation at Lex nightclub on Jan. 25. Castillo worked with Nevada athletics during his time at the university and also was a part of the Dean’s Future Scholars program.
Following the loss to UNLV, Carter pointed out some ways the Wolf Pack can progress from here.
“We just have to stay positive, watch tape and learn how to grow,” Carter said. “The biggest thing is [limiting] turnovers and free throws, those are two areas that are keeping us from where we want to be.”
Later in the week, poor shooting and rebounding contributed to the Pack’s demise against Wyoming. Nevada shot a paltry 18 percent (2-for-11) from three-point range and was outrebounded 34 to 24. Senior Derek Cooke Jr. was key for the Cowboys as he made his five shot attempts and added 10 rebounds to his stat sheet. Both Cooke and Larry Nance Jr. were able to contain West to seven rebounds (he had averaged 8.6 per game prior to that point) and the junior center was unable to finish at the end.
“Me, personally, I didn’t do a good enough job on the boards like I usually do,” West told the Reno Gazette-Journal after the game. “As a team, we didn’t rebound well enough and we turned it over and I missed my clutch free throws at the end.”
Nevada’s next opponent will be Mountain West heavyweight San Diego State Wednesday night at home and then they will hit the road to face San Jose State on Saturday.
Chris Boline can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @CDBoline.