RENO — Nobody had to tell the Nevada Wolf Pack how important it is to beat the UNLV Rebels.
“We came out knowing how important it is for our team, for our fans, for the community,” junior Jalen Harris said. “We knew we had to pull it out.”
The Wolf Pack whipped the Rebels Wednesday night, 86-72, in front of a season-high crowd of 10,325 at Lawlor Events Center. The Pack, now 12-8 overall and 5-3 in the Mountain West, led over the final 38 minutes.
“I know the importance of this game,” senior Lindsey Drew said. “There’s no excuse not to play hard.”
The Wolf Pack buried the Rebels with an avalanche of 3-pointers and free throws. The Pack was 11-of-26 on threes and 25-of-29 from the line. UNLV was 7-of-25 on threes and 19-of-25 from the line. It as the first time the Pack outscored a team from the free throw line in eight games.
“I told them team, ‘It’s great to win the game and beat UNLV but let’s be even more excited about our free throws,’” Pack coach Steve Alford said. “Our goal every game is to outscore the other team by five at the line and we outscored them by six. This is the first time this year we reached our goal, the first time in 20 games. It should be a weapon for us because we have good free thro shooters.”
The 25 successful free throws are the most by the Pack since it was 29-of-31 from the line in a 91-73 win over Texas Southern on Dec. 18 at Lawlor. The Pack was 21-of-23 from the line in the second half against UNLV.
All but one of the Wolf Pack’s free throws came from just three players. Jazz Johnson was 10-of-11, Jalen Harris was 9-of-11 and Lindsey Drew was 5-of-6. The only other Pack player to get to the line was Nisre Zouzoua (1-of-1). Those four were also the Pack’s top scorers. Harris had 29, Johnson had 19, Drew finished with 15 and Zouzoua had 11.
“We drove it hard in the second half,” Alford said, explaining the frequent trips to the line. “We didn’t stand around. We were in attack mode most of the night.”
“We were just being aggressive,” said Harris, who also had a team-high six assists and three steals. “We wanted to keep them (UNLV) on their heels and keep the pressure on them.”
The Wolf Pack took its first lead (4-2) on a 3-pointer by Harris just two minutes into the game and never looked back. The Pack led for the final 38 minutes and has now beaten the Rebels five times in a row, seven of the last eight and eight out of the last 10. UNLV, though, still leads the rivalry 60-30.
“Our warm-up was better, guys got onto the floor earlier,” said Alford, who is now one victory away from his 600th in his career. “I don’t know what it was, whether it was UNLV, a great crowd or that they were back in class this week of whatever it was. But there were just a lot of variables that were favorable for us.”
The Pack, now 8-2 at home, took a 33-27 lead at halftime despite getting out rebounded 28-20. UNLV was just 8-of-33 from the floor (24 percent) and 2-of-13 on threes in the first 20 minutes.
The Wolf Pack went on an 11-0 run to take an 11-2 lead six minutes into the game. Harris and Drew each had 3-pointers to key the run.
UNLV didn’t connect on its first successful field goal until Marvin Coleman drained a 3-pointer with 13:58 to go in the half. Amauri Hardy followed that up with UNLV’s second and final 3-pointer of the half just 26 seconds later to cut the Pack lead to just 11-8.
The Pack also had a 10-2 run, capped off by Drew’s second 3-pointer, to take a 28-15 lead with just over five minutes remaining in the half. Drew had nine points in the first half after scoring just 14 points over the Pack’s last three games combined.
“Lindsey needed a good shooting night and he did that,” said Alford of Drew’s 4-of-7 performance from the floor.
UNLV dominated the final five minutes of the half, outscoring the Pack 12-5 to cut the deficit to just six at the break. Hardy, who had 11 points in the first half, six points in the final five minutes to help the Rebels stay close.
“We stopped guarding them in the final three minutes of the first half,” Alford said.
Johnson, who missed his first six shots of the game and scored just two points in the first half, connected on a 3-pointer two minutes into the second half for a 36-30 Pack lead. The Rebels, though, stayed close as Hardy and Jonah Antonio each had threes to slice the Wolf Pack lead to just 40-38 with 16:33 to play.
The Wolf Pack, though, would never relinquish the lead.
Johnson’s second three gave the Pack a 43-38 lead and Harris connected twice less than a minute apart for a 49-40 lead with just under 15 minutes to play. Freshman K.J. Hymes had a dunk off a pass from Johnson and a layup on a pass from Harris as the Wolf Pack led 53-43 with 12:47 left.
Hymes finished with eight points, four rebounds and three blocks in 14 minutes.
“That’s as well as K.J. has played all year,” Alford said.
The Wolf Pack’s 10th and 11th threes of the game, by Johnson and Zouzoua, gave the Pack a 61-49 lead and some breathing room with just under 11 minutes to play. The Pack then put the game away from the free throw line, draining a dozen free throws in a row for a 73-59 lead with 4:18 to play.
“We did a lot of good things,” Alford said. “We led for most of the game and when you do that in a league game you are doing a lot of good things. The guys really passed the test.”
The Wolf Pack, which will play at UNLV on Feb. 12, will host New Mexico on Saturday afternoon (5 p.m.) at Lawlor Events Center while UNLV returns home to meet Mountain West leader San Diego State on Sunday.