Grading Nevada: Pack continues domination of Spartans

Nevada’s Will Baker scored 23 points against San Jose State on Feb. 15, 2022 in Reno. (Photo: Nevada Athletics)

Nevada’s Will Baker scored 23 points against San Jose State on Feb. 15, 2022 in Reno. (Photo: Nevada Athletics)

  • Discuss Comment, Blog about
  • Print Friendly and PDF
Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 81-72 victory on Tuesday over the San Jose State Spartans at Lawlor Events Center:

Sherfield, as he often does, likely by design, started out slow. The point guard missed five of his first six shots as the Pack found itself trailing 23-16 a dozen minutes into the game.
Coach Steve Alford then sat him down for 1:46 and a rejuvenated Sherfield and the Pack then dominated the last 26-plus minutes of the game.
Sherfield, who finished with 21 points, hit on three of his final four shots of the opening half, two in the final 42 seconds. He then connected on three shots in a row in a span of just over two minutes early in the second half as the Pack took a 53-50 lead with 12 minutes to go. Sherfield, as he also often does, then put the game away in the final 6:49 with seven points, the last five on free throws. Sherfield didn’t even attempt a 3-pointer for the first time in his 47-game, two-year Pack career, also likely by design. But he was brilliant all game long as a playmaker, finding his teammates for eight assists. He also turned the ball over just once in 38 minutes. Sherfield is back and so is the Pack.
Cambridge, overall, was productive and efficient once again with 14 points, two steals, four assists, seven rebounds and four 3-pointers. His only real blemish came on a silly windmill dunk attempt that bounced off the rim with the Pack trailing 13-12 just six minutes into the game.
But the only worrisome thing to come out of Tuesday night is that we might have seen the transformation of Steph Curry Cambridge back into Desmond Cambridge. Cambridge, who had 63 points on 13 3-pointers (23-of-31 from the field overall) combined against Colorado State and Utah State in back-to-back games, suddenly disappeared offensively in the second half against San Jose State. Cambridge scored all 14 of his points and hit on all four of his threes against San Jose State in the first half. In the second half he missed all five of his shots (three threes) and didn’t score a point.
It turns out, though, that the Pack doesn’t always need Cambridge to score. Nevada put up 42 points (none by Cambridge) in the second half against San Jose State because while the Spartans were busy concentrating on Cambridge the rest of the Pack was busy filling up the nets with dunks and layups. The Pack, though, will need at least a little Steph Curry Cambridge to beat real teams.
Blackshear did little in the first half, misfiring on his only shot and making 1-of-2 free throws. In the second half, however, he hit a short jumper to cut the deficit to 43-41 and then had one of the key plays of the game with a steal that led to a 3-point play and a 69-65 Pack lead with just under five minutes to go.
Scoring, though, was not Blackshear’s concern in this game because the Pack was determined to dunk the Spartans into submission. Blackshear was just 2-of-5 from the floor and scored a mere six points. But he also had five rebounds, three assists and a steal and played a huge role on defense, like he always does. All three of his assists (two on Cambridge threes) came in the first half.
Baker only played 20 minutes but was the game’s most dominant player. He scored a game-high 23 points on 11-of-13 shooting and also pulled down six rebounds. The 7-footer dominated the Spartans under the basket and simply carried the Pack down the stretch. He scored 10 points in the final 5:27 on three dunks and two short jumpers in the paint. He scored 10 of the Pack’s 13 points during that stretch, turning a 65-64 deficit with 5:27 to go into a 77-70 lead with 34 seconds left.
If it wasn’t for a pair of fouls in the first half (he didn’t play the final 10 minutes of the half) he likely would have had a 30-point night. Baker, who has fallen in love with his inconsistent 3-point shot this year at times (he’s just 10-of-35 over his last 17 games), didn’t attempt a single 3-pointer on Tuesday for just the fourth time in 24 games this year. That, too, likely was by design.
Coleman has clearly turned his 2021-22 season in the right direction over the last six games. The 6-foot-7 Indiana native made all three of his shots and scored eight points for one of his most efficient performances of his two-year Pack career. Coleman is now 17-of-36 from the floor and 5-of-11 on threes for 43 points combined over his last six games. Over his first 18 games this year he was 20-of-85 from the floor, 7-of-45 on threes for just 63 points.
Coleman scored five points in just 31 seconds to cut San Jose State’s lead to 28-27 with 5:13 to go in the first half. His 3-pointer gave the Pack a 58-52 lead midway through the second half and he fed Baker for a short jumper in the paint for a 73-68 lead with 2:36 to go. Coleman, who played 34 minutes, led the Pack with three steals. Credit Alford for remaining patient with Coleman and credit Coleman for listening to his coach about how to contribute offensively.


Foster did what he was supposed to do in his 16 minutes. He didn’t score (just one missed shot) but he also didn’t turn the ball over and he chipped in with a rebound, a steal and a block. The Pack didn’t play great with Foster on the floor (Nevada was outscored 36-32 in his 16 minutes) but he contributed to the victory down the stretch just the same. Foster blocked a layup by the Spartans’ Majok Kuath with six minutes to go and stole the ball from Omari Moore with 26 seconds left.
Hymes had a season-high nine points on 4-of-5 shooting in just 16 minutes. It was clearly his best game of the season, at least on the offensive end. All 16 of Hymes’ minutes came with Baker on the bench. He was instrumental during a five-minute stretch in the second half when the Pack turned a 48-47 deficit into a 60-56 lead. During those five minutes Hymes assisted on a Sherfield layup and also had an offensive rebound and a layup for a 55-52 lead and a dunk for a 60-56 lead with 10 minutes to go. Hymes’ best stat of the game, though, might have been that he had just one foul in 16 minutes and was able to stay on the floor when Baker rested.
Huseinovic played four minutes (with a turnover) and Henry played three (with a missed shot). Neither one stepped on the floor in the second half.
It is amazing how much smarter and engaged coach Steve Alford appears when Grant Sherfield is on the floor, isn’t it? The Pack had a brilliant game plan of attacking the Spartans right under the basket. Alford refused to turn the game into a 3-point shooting contest (the Spartans lead the Mountain West in most threes made and attempted). The Pack took just nine 3-pointers (eight by Cambridge) and instead went inside for easy points. The two Pack centers, Baker and Hymes, combined for 32 points in just 36 minutes on 15-of-18 shooting. The nine 3-point attempts are the fewest by the Pack in a game since it went 0-for-9 from downtown against UNLV on Jan. 23, 2016.
Alford, thanks to Sherfield’s return from a three-game absence (foot injury), has finally settled on a consistent rotation. Alford is playing Cambridge, Sherfield, Blackshear and Coleman 30-plus minutes each and rotating Baker and Hymes on and off the floor, depending on fouls. This will likely be the formula until center Warren Washington (broken fingers) returns to the floor.
Alford seems to be doing something right at halftime. The Pack outscored the Spartans 42-29 in the second 20 minutes, turning a four-point halftime deficit into a nine-point win. The game before at Utah State the Pack turned a five-point deficit at the break into a 13-point win. That, of course, also has a lot to do with Sherfield’s return to the lineup. But Alford is getting the best out of all five of his starters now on a consistent basis for the first time all season.
This is a game the Pack might have lost on the road. We’ll see if that turns out to be true in the rematch on Thursday at San Jose State. The Pack, though, will be best served on Thursday if San Jose State does not come out of the locker room on fire from 3-point range like they did on Tuesday because they might not cool off at home.
The Spartans, who basically just throw up threes all game (32 on Tuesday) long, drained 9-of-18 from long distance in the first half. But the Spartans, despite all their success beyond the arc, only led by four at the half. It wasn’t all that surprising that the Spartans cooled off in the second half (just 5-of-14 on threes) at Lawlor Events Center. They also never took advantage of their 11-5 edge on offensive rebounds because, well, they are the worst shooting team in the Mountain West. The Pack, despite allowing 11 offensive rebounds, outscored the Spartans 8-6 on second-chance points.
The Pack defense was also excellent against San Jose State’s Myron Amey, holding him to 3-of-14 shooting and just eight points. The 6-foot-5 freshman had averaged 22 points a game over his last three games heading into Tuesday night. The Pack has now won 32 of its last 35 games against San Jose State, a remarkable string of domination that began two decades ago. The Wolf Pack needs to make it 33-of-36 on Thursday in the Bay Area against a one-dimensional team that has yet to win a Mountain West game (0-13).


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment