RENO —Lindsey Drew is back better than ever.
The Nevada Wolf Pack can’t say the same thing right now.
The Nevada point guard, playing in his first game since February 2018, scored a career-high 30 points but it wasn’t enough as the Wolf Pack suffered a season-opening 79-74 loss to the Utah Utes on Tuesday night at Lawlor Events Center.
Drew, playing in his 100th career game, never scored more than 17 points in any of his first 99 games in a Wolf Pack uniform. The season-opening crowd of 8,324 saw Drew return to the lineup for the first time in nearly 21 months with a team-high five 3-pointers, eight assists and six rebounds to go along with his first 30-point career game.
“He was terrific,” said Steve Alford, who was making his Wolf Pack debut as head coach. “He was special. It was incredible to see.”
The 6-foot-4 Drew, who injured his Achilles on Feb. 14, 2018 and later suffered a hip injury, set his career highs for points, 3-pointers made and attempted (nine), field goals (12) and field goals attempted (19). His eight assists were just one off his career high of nine.
“He led us in assists, he led us in scoring and he led us in rebounding,” first-year coach Steve Alford said. “That’s a pretty good night after missing the last 20 months or so. He’s worked so hard to get back so this was a great start for him.”
The start wasn’t as great for the Wolf Pack overall. Utah outscored the Wolf Pack 22-7 at the free throw line and outrebounded Nevada 51-32. The loss to the Utes also snapped the Pack’s record-tying 18-game home winning streak. The Wolf Pack, which finished 29-5 a year ago, won all 15 of its home games last season and the last three in 2017-18 under former coach Eric Musselman.
“It’s hard to win when you get beat 22-7 at the line and get outrebounded like that,” Alford said. “The most glaring thing I’m upset about is the rebounding. They were just tougher on the glass than we were. This is a good lesson for us.”
The Wolf Pack, which was 42-2 at home the last three seasons combined, played the majority of the game without junior Jalen Harris, who led the team in scoring in two exhibition games last month. Harris suffered a foot injury early in the first half against Utah and played just eight minutes, going 0-for-4 from the floor.
“We had a lot of adversity,” Alford said, “from the foul trouble (29 fouls on the Pack, 16 on Utah), to Jalen going down. He’s obviously a big part of what we do. He’s our biggest guard (6-foot-5) and we could have used him to help guard (Timmy) Allen and (Both) Gach.”
Allen scored 23 points to lead Utah and Gach had 22.
Drew kept the Wolf Pack in the game almost by himself in the first half. The fifth-year senior broke his career high for points in a game with 18 in the first 20 minutes alone as the Pack trailed 37-32 at the break. Drew’s previous career high for points in a game was 17 against UNLV a week before he got hurt in February 2018.
“Honestly, it’s cool,” aid Drew of his 30-point effort. “But it really doesn’t mean anything because we didn’t get the W (victory).”
Drew scored the Wolf Pack’s first nine points for a 9-4 lead on three 3-pointers in the game’s first 2:12, draining a three from the left elbow, right elbow and top of the circle.
Drew also had a layup for a 13-12 Pack lead six minutes into the game and connected on a jumper in the lane to cut Utah’s lead to 22-19 with nine minutes left in the half. Drew, who was 7-of-9 from the floor in the opening half, converted a three-point play to cut Utah’s lead to 27-22 and had a jumper in the lane to tie the game at 27-27 with 5:41 to go.
“It wasn’t in my head (to score that much) going into the game,” Drew said. “I was just seeing what the defense gave me. I had some open threes and took advantage of that.”
“He was impressive to say the least,” said senior Jazz Johnson, who had 16 points on three 3-pointers. “He was efficient (no turnovers), he passed the ball well and he rebounded well. We’ve got to help him out more. He did his part. We didn’t get the job done.”
Drew, though, did have some help in the opening 20 minutes. Freshman K.J. Hymes scored his first points in a Pack uniform on a short jumper in the lane to cut Utah’s lead to 12-11 and Johnson connected on his first 3-pointer of the season to tie the game at 30-30 with 3:44 to play in the half.
Utah, though, scored seven of the final nine points in the half to take a 37-32 lead at the intermission. Junior guard Alfonso Plummer, the only player on Utah’s 15-man roster who is not a freshman or sophomore, had a steal and a layup for a 33-30 Utes lead with two minutes to go in the half.
Drew’s fourth 3-pointer of the game pulled the Pack into a 43-43 tie with 16:27 to play in the second half. A 3-pointer by Nisre Zouzoua earlier cut Utah’s lead to 37-35 less than a minute into the second half and Johnson’s second 3-pointer of the game sliced Utah’s lead to 39-38 two minutes into the half.
Utah, though, scored seven consecutive points to take a 50-43 lead with just under 14 minutes to play. Gach, a sophomore guard, had a pair of layups during the 7-0 run and also hit a 3-pointer for a 53-45 Utah lead with 13:12 to play.
The Pack, which beat Utah 86-71 last December in Salt Lake City, went on a 9-0 run to take a 58-56 lead with 8:46 to play. It was the Pack’s first lead since a 13-12 advantage six minutes into the game. The 9-0 run came on a pair of free throws by Robby Robinson, a 3-pointer by Drew and a layup and jumper (off an assist from Drew) by Johnson.
“I like the way we competed,” Alford said. “They fought.”
“I definitely like the way we fought,” Drew said. “We just have to keep our heads up. It’s a long season.”
Utah jumped out to a 69-60 lead with four minutes to go, thanks to a pair of 3-pointers by Gach. The Pack kept fighting back but could never draw even the rest of the way. Johnson hit a 3-pointer to cut Utah’s lead to 69-63 with 3:16 to go and Zane Meeks connected from beyond the arc to pull the Pack within 73-68 with 48 seconds to go. Meeks also had a jumper to cut Utah’s lead to just 74-70 with 28 seconds left.
“This is a good barometer for us to learn from,” Johnson said. “You always need a little wakeup call.”
The Wolf Pack will host Loyola Marymount on Saturday night (7 p.m.) at Lawlor Events Center.