Struggling Nevada faces tough task in Cal

The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team is setting back the art of scoring the ball nearly five decades.

The Wolf Pack, which will bring a five-game losing streak into its game against the California Golden Bears today (1 p.m.) at Lawlor Events Center, has scored under 60 points in each of its last four games.

The last time the Pack went as many as four games in a row without scoring at least 60 points was during the 1966-67 season. That Pack team, which ended the year with a 5-20 record under coach Jack Spencer, actually went five games in a row from Dec. 21, 1966 to Jan. 7, 1967 without reaching 60.

“I’ve never had a team struggle offensively like this so this is new to me,” Wolf Pack coach David Carter said, shaking his head. “It’s been very surprising for me. I didn’t expect this.”

The Wolf Pack, now 2-5 on the year, averaged just 55.4 points a game in its five-game losing streak against Seton Hall, Clemson, Weber State, Nebraska-Omaha and Long Beach State.

“We all just need to start making shots,” senior guard Michael Perez said.

The four games under 60 points on offense this season is already one more than last year’s team scored under 60 all season long. Just two Wolf Pack teams (1998-99 and 1999-00) since the 1966-67 team had as many as three games in a row when it scored under 60 points.

“This team has to score collectively,” Carter said. “It can’t be just one or two individuals.”

The Wolf Pack is averaging 58.7 points a game this year (down from 72.4 a year ago) and is shooting .371 from the field and .272 on 3-pointers. No Pack player has yet to score as many as 20 points in a game or is averaging as many as a dozen points a game. D.J. Fenner leads the team at 11.6 points a game followed by Marqueze Coleman (11.3), Perez (10.1), A.J. West (10.0), Tyron Criswell (5.1) and Eric Cooper (3.9).

“We have to rely on everyone, including the bench,” Carter said. “As far as one guy scoring 10 or 12 points in a row for us in a game, I don’t know if we have a guy who can do that. That’s why we need everyone to contribute.”

The Wolf Pack’s offensive struggles, while alarming, could have been expected, at least early in the year. The Pack lost its top three scorers off last year’s team in Deonte Burton (20.1 points a game), Cole Huff (12.4) and Jerry Evans (12.3). Only one player on the current roster (Perez at 11.5 points a game last year) has averaged as many as seven points in a season at the Division I level. And Coleman is playing the point full-time for the first time in his career.

“We’re going to fight through it,” Coleman said. “It’s frustrating when you are losing games but we just have to trust the process. The offense will come. It will come.”

The Wolf Pack has enjoyed a phenomenal run of talented point guards the last 10 seasons with Ramon Sessions, Armon Johnson and Burton. Carter said the offense’s struggles this year likely mirror Coleman’s learning curve.

“He watched Deonte the last two years but I don’t think he understands all the little things Deonte did,” Carter said. “Marqueze will get better and better. Right now he’s learning. This is his first year of playing the point full-time. It’s a big adjustment for him.

“He’s been real good in transition. But when we get into a half court game he is struggling right now to recognize the third or fourth option on offense. But he’s learning. It takes time.”

The Wolf Pack has a simple solution to its offensive problem.

“Just make shots,” Fenner said with a smile. “We’re taking good shots. We just have to go from taking good shots to taking great shots. We’ll get there.”

Fenner wants everyone to know the Pack recent struggles are no laughing matter.

“It hurts to lose,” he said. “We’re not just losing games and going on to the next game like it is no big deal. Losing hurts. We’re feeling the pain. But we’re learning from this and we’re working hard and harder each day. We’re not winning right now but it’s going to come.”

California is winning right now. The Golden Bears, under first-year coach Cuonzo Martin, are 6-1 and are coming off a 78-76 double-overtime win over Montana. They have also beaten Fresno State (64-57) at Fresno and Syracuse (73-59) at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

“Is (Cal) an opponent I want right now?” Carter said. “With the way we’re playing? No. But it’s on the schedule. Look, we didn’t want to be where we’re at right now. But we are. It’s reality.”

The Wolf Pack lost at Cal last season, 92-84, as Burton scored 26 points with seven rebounds and five assists. Perez had 18 points and five boards. The Pack played well against the Bears, shooting 55 percent from the floor and making 8-of-17 3-pointers.

“It’s a different system, different philosophy, different coach,” said Carter of Cal’s switch from Mike Montgomery, who retired after the year, to Martin, a former (1991-95) Purdue point guard. The Pack and Carter faced Martin before, losing to Martin’s Missouri State team 62-60 on Feb. 20, 2010. Luke Babbitt had 16 points and 12 rebounds for the Pack. “We know we can play with them,” said Coleman, when asked what he learned from playing Cal last season.

Cal is led by 6-5 junior Tyrone Wallace (17.9 points a game), 6-3 sophomore Jordan Mathews (15.1), 6-10 senior David Kravish. (12.4) and 6-6 sophomore Jabari Bird (11.1). Kravish had 16 points and eight rebounds, Bird had 16 points and Wallace had 14 last year against the Pack.

Cal is averaging 75.1 points a game and is holding opponents to 61.6. The Bears went 21-14 last year under Montgomery and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. They won 20 or more games in five of the last six years under Montgomery, who also coached at Stanford. One of his Stanford assistants was former Wolf Pack head coach Trent Johnson.

“We just need to take care of the ball more and continue to play good defense,” Coleman said. “We also have to score the ball. We can’t go four to six minutes in a row without scoring like we’ve been doing. That puts too much pressure on our defense.”

“As a competitor, the losing eats you alive,” Perez said. “But we’re in every game. It just comes down to basketball players making basketball plays. We’ll be all right.”


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