The Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball team admits it treated last weekend's trip to Southern California like it was an early holiday vacation.
"We just didn't play hard," said senior guard Malik Story of the 78-64 season-opening loss at UC Irvine last Saturday night. "We honestly don't know why. I guess coming off last year we just felt it was automatic."
"We came out lazy," said junior forward Jerry Evans, one of eight players on the Pack's active roster who calls Southern California home. "We acted like the ball was just going to fall into our hands."
"We didn't come out strong at all," junior forward Kevin Panzer said. "We didn't set the tone. We didn't play anywhere near like we're supposed to play."
The Pack, which will host Cal State Fullerton on today (6 p.m.), Green Bay on Saturday (6 p.m.) and Southern Utah on Sunday (3:30 p.m.) in the three-day World Vision Classic at Lawlor Events Center, was out-rebounded by Irvine 51-37.
"We stood around like last year when Dario and Olek were around getting the rebounds," Evans said.
Dario Hunt and Olek Czyz, both seniors a year ago, are no longer around and the two front-court players have left a big hole in the Pack starting lineup. Hunt and Czyz last year combined for 24.1 points and 16.2 rebounds a game. Their replacements - Panzer and Devonte Elliott - combined for 10 points and 11 rebounds against Irvine.
"Dario and Olek had a different mindset," said Evans who had just two rebounds against Irvine. "When there was a rebound, they'd go and get it. They just brought it everyday. We don't have that now because of a lack of experience."
Panzer played reasonably well, snaring nine rebounds and scoring six points in 27 minutes. Elliott, though, had just two rebounds and four points in 23 minutes.
"For us to be good he has to be outstanding every night," said Carter of the 6-foot-10 Elliott.
The closest anyone in silver and blue came to outstanding against Irvine was Story, who had a team-high 21 points and five rebounds. But Story also missed five of his six 3-point shots as the Pack was just 2-of-16 from long distance.
"We didn't play hard enough as a group," Story said. "We just let too many ball bounce over our heads."
Pack coach David Carter said that "rebounding is our number one goal going into this weekend." With Hunt and Czyz last year the Wolf Pack out-rebounded its opponent in 23 of 35 games. They won 20 of those 23 games to finish 28-7 on the year.
"Watching the game (against Irvine), it looked like we were just assuming somebody else would rebound the ball," Carter said. "We didn't pressure the ball. Rebounding has to be a team thing. It has to be a collective thing. We have to keep everybody off the boards. It wasn't just Irvine's bigs getting the rebounds. Their guards were also beating us to the ball."
The Pack started 3-3 last year and then won 23 of its next 25 games in winning the Western Athletic Conference title. That could be difficult to duplicate in the Mountain West this season.
"Last year we didn't make the (NCAA Tournament) because we didn't win enough games early," Story said. "We learned that the hard way. We have to get it together now."
The Pack, though, demonstrated at Irvine that they have already forgotten last year's lesson.
"I just thought they (Irvine) wanted it more than we did," Carter said. "We just played in spurts. We didn't do it for 40 minutes."
Carter added that it is important that the Wolf Pack finds some offense from its power forward and center this year. Forward Ali Fall, a 6-9 junior college transfer, played 13 minutes against Irvine off the bench and didn't score. Cole Huff, a 6-8 freshman, came off the bench to score nine points in 17 minutes to complement Panzer's and Elliott's 10 points in a combined 50 minutes.
"It balances your team," said Carter of some much-needed frontcourt scoring. "That way teams can't double team Malik and (point guard Deonte Burton). They have to play us straight up. We've always had that here. It's very important."
Carter said Fall, playing in his first Division I game after two seasons at Bartow Community College, struggled against Irvine.
"He took a step back," Carter said. "It was his first Division I game with the bright lights on the road. He was taken aback a little."
Carter, though, said that the Pack's other two newcomers - freshman guard Marqueze Coleman and Huff - did play well. Coleman had four points in 12 minutes and Huff had five rebounds to go along with his nine points.
"There was some slippage on their part, especially on defense but that's to be expected from freshmen," Carter said. "You expect them to make some errors. But I thought they both played pretty well."
Story insists the Pack learned its lesson from the Irvine loss.
"We learned that coming off last year there's a target on our backs," Story said. "We won 28 games. We have to come out focused from the tip-off."
"We have to come out at the start like it's the last five minutes of the game," Evans said. "We have to win these games this weekend. We can't let them slip through our fingers. We kind of took it for granted at Irvine. But we won't do it again."
The Wolf Pack was 16-2 at Lawlor Events Center last year and will play nine of its next 12 games at home.
"It's huge to win at home," said Carter, whose Wolf Pack are 40-9 at home in his three seasons as head coach. "We want to establish home court dominance like last year. And we obviously don't like losing in front of our fans."