Grades: Alford wills Pack to win in sloppy game vs. UCSD

Nevada coach Steve Alford, pictured earlier this season, got almost no bench production Wednesday night, but the Pack still got a narrow win.

Nevada coach Steve Alford, pictured earlier this season, got almost no bench production Wednesday night, but the Pack still got a narrow win.

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Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 64-56 men’s basketball victory over the UC San Diego Tritons on Wednesday at Lawlor Events Center:



Lucas did almost nothing positive in the first half. In the second half, he was one of the main reasons why the Wolf Pack avoided an embarrassing loss at home to a team that was in Division II just three years ago. Lucas played 18 minutes in the first half and didn’t score, missing his four shots (three threes). All four misses came in the first nine minutes of the game. He then went to the bench for two minutes and came back for the final 8:24, seemingly without any confidence, and then didn’t take another shot the rest of the half. That all changed in the second half. Lucas scored eight points in the first 11 minutes of the second half, draining 3-of-4 shots and a pair of free throws. The final nine minutes of the game weren’t a work of art for Lucas, but he finished the game with a 3-pointer for a 58-52 lead with 3:25 to play and a pair of free throws to close the scoring with two seconds left. The Pack, though, struggled to put the Tritons away down the stretch, in large part due to Lucas missing 3-pointers with 3:49 and 2:49 left and a crucial free throw with 36 seconds to go. Lucas, the Pack’s leading scorer at 16.8 points a game, finished with 13 points, the second-lowest output he’s had this season behind the nine points he had against Grand Canyon in Game 2. And when Lucas isn’t scoring, he’s not doing much to help the Pack win. He has no blocks and just three steals all year and just five assists and 13 rebounds over his last seven games.


Blackshear turned in one of his most efficient, consistent and productive performances of the year. The 6-foot-6 senior point guard had 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting, with five rebounds, four assists, two blocks and two steals. He was 6-of-7 inside the 3-point circle after going 17-of-47 on 2-pointers over the previous five games combined. Blackshear had seven points in the first half, making all four of his shots, and added 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting in the second half. He is, without a doubt, the most versatile player on the team at both ends of the floor. He is now averaging 14 points, 5.2 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 1.3 steals a game. Three of his four assists against San Diego led to Pack 3-pointers by Tre Coleman and Will Baker in the first half and Jarod Lucas with 3:25 to go in the second half for a 58-52 lead, arguably the most important bucket of the game. Blackshear also blocked a pair of Triton layups in the second half. He scored five points in the final two minutes to keep the Pack close at halftime (down 34-29) and then hit a short jumper and two layups in the second half for important leads of 41-38 (15:33 to go), 43-41 (12:00) and 53-50 (6:35). He also drained a pair of free throws twice for leads of 45-44 (10:59 left) and 62-56 (23 seconds to go). Blackshear went 2-of-12 from the floor for five points against Loyola Marymount on Dec. 3, regrouped and has now scored 61 points on 19-of-38 shooting from the floor and 20-of-23 from the line over the last three games combined.


The 6-11 Baker took advantage of a small lineup (only one Triton who played was over 6-7) to score 17 points with five rebounds in 26 minutes. Emmanuel Tshimanga, at 7-foot, was the only Triton that could challenge Baker physically, but Tshimanga played just 21 minutes and Baker scored 13 of his 17 points with Tshimanga on the bench. Baker had a layup and a 3-pointer 35 seconds apart as the Pack took a 15-13 lead seven minutes into the game. His four points with Tshimanga on the floor all came in the first four minutes of the second half, giving the Pack a 39-38 lead. Baker also hit a timely jumper for a 49-46 lead with 9:38 to play and a 55-52 lead with 5:20 left. Baker was 5-of-6 from the floor on 2-pointers after going 33-of-64 on shots inside the arc over the first 11 games of the year. The 17 points are Baker’s most since he scored 19 and 20 in back-to-back games against Kansas State and Akron in the Cayman Islands in late November. He had just 16 points in his previous three games combined going into Wednesday night.


Coleman’s steal off the Tritons’ Jace Roquemore with 3:30 to play that led to a Jarod Lucas 3-pointer and a 58-52 lead five seconds later might have been the play of the game. Coleman also answered a layup by San Diego’s Francis Nwaokorie with 2:25 to play with a layup of his own 29 seconds later for a 60-54 lead. The 6-7 junior has been as consistent as any Pack player this season. Although his numbers don’t jump out at you from the stat sheet, almost all of them are important and meaningful. In the first four minutes of the second half, after the Pack took a 34-29 deficit into the break, Coleman assisted on short jumpers by Jarod Lucas and Will Baker, pulled down a rebound and converted a layup as the Pack took a 39-38 lead. He finished the game with nine points on 4-of-7 shooting, six rebounds, four assists and a steal in 35 minutes. His field goals, rebounds and assists all equaled his season highs this year. He didn’t score over the final 15 minutes of the first half and had just two points without an assist over the final 16 minutes of the second half, so much of his production came in bunches.


The 6-6 freshman might have left his offensive game at Bishop Gorman, where he was the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year a year ago. But he also might be the best rebounder in the Mountain West at 6-6 or under. Williams had just two points in 33 minutes on Wednesday, missing all five of his shots from the floor. But his 10 boards led the Pack by far. Williams, who has scored just 30 points on 10-of-46 shooting (4-of-21 on threes) over his last six games, works as hard on defense as anyone in silver and blue. All 10 of his rebounds were on the defensive glass against San Diego. He also had a steal and fed Tre Coleman for a layup for a 35-34 lead two minutes into the second half. Williams also fed Will Baker for a jumper in the paint and a 55-52 lead with 5:20 to play. He might not be scoring much over the last six games, but he does have 23 assists over that same time frame. Williams, understandably, is getting a little gun-shy on the offensive end. He didn’t even attempt a shot until there was just 6:26 to play in the first half. He then missed a jumper in the paint and a 3-pointer v 51 seconds apart early in the second half and then took just one shot (he missed a layup with six minutes to go) over the final 14 minutes of the game.



The evening started innocently enough for Davidson. He was on the floor for 4:29 of the first 11 minutes and scored four points with a pair of rebounds. The last 29 minutes of the game, though, were a Nick nightmare even though he spent the vast majority of it on the bench. The 6-8 redshirt freshman played just 6:26 of those final 29 minutes and committed five fouls and didn’t score a point (0-1 from the floor and 0-2 from the line). Four of his fouls came in his five frustrating minutes he was on the floor in the second half. Two of them came in a span of nine seconds early in the second half. He was then on the floor for a mere 13 seconds before committing his fourth foul with 7:54 to play and was on the floor for just under two minutes before picking up his fifth foul with 3:06 to go. His 11 minutes on Wednesday are the fewest he’s played in a game this year and, not coincidentally, it was the first time he’s fouled out.


The 6-3 freshman, unfortunately for the Pack, was merely an extension of Davidson. He played just five minutes (also his fewest of the year), missed his only shot and picked up a foul. All five of his minutes came in the first half. He came off the floor with 5:29 to go in the opening half and was never seen again.


Powell didn’t score in his 18 minutes, missing two shots from the floor and two from the line and also turning the ball over once. But he gets some credit for only picking up just two fouls in those 18 minutes. Coach Steve Alford showed tremendous patience with Powell in the first half, allowing him to play nearly six minutes in a row despite Powell missing a 3-pointer and a jumper, committing a foul and turning  the ball over. Powell then played the final 3:20 of the opening half and proceeded to miss two free throws. It was more of the same in the second half, though Powell did eliminate most of the mistakes. He played nearly nine minutes in a row in the second half and had a steal, rebound and a foul.


Steve Alford won this game basically without a bench. The bench played just 34 total minutes and scored four points (1-of-7 from the floor, 1-of-6 from the line) with four rebounds and three turnovers while committing eight fouls. But even most of the starters had their issues. Lucas was only productive for half the game and Williams was only productive on one half of the court. Coleman was only productive in spurts while Baker was only productive when the opposing team’s 7-footer was on the bench. Alford did it with smoke and mirrors on Wednesday.


The Wolf Pack, which missed 16-of-21 threes and might not have won without some home cooking (a 15-7 edge in free throws), clearly picked the right time to play the Tritons. Don’t get the UC San Diego Tritons confused with the University of San Diego Toreros. The Tritons are a glorified Division II team that calls La Jolla, Calif., home and is still getting its feet wet in Division I in the Big West. The Toreros are a competitive West Coast Conference team that just destroyed the Tritons, 84-58, on Monday. Yes, the Tritons beat Cal, 64-62, back in November. But Cal, coached by former Pack coach Mark Fox, has serious issues this year at 0-11. The Pack, if we take what happened on Wednesday seriously, also has issues that need to be corrected. But don’t take what happened too seriously. The Pack is playing with a thin, inconsistent and inexperienced roster right now and still found a way to win an ugly game. It's December and the Pack is 9-3. Enjoy it and don’t analyze it too much.



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