Grading Nevada: Wolf Pack can’t find its way against UNLV

Nevada’s Grant Sherfield is guarded by UNLV’s Jordan McCabe on Feb. 22, 2022 at Lawlor Events Center in Reno. (Photo: Nevada Athletics)

Nevada’s Grant Sherfield is guarded by UNLV’s Jordan McCabe on Feb. 22, 2022 at Lawlor Events Center in Reno. (Photo: Nevada Athletics)

  • Discuss Comment, Blog about
  • Print Friendly and PDF
Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 62-54 loss to the UNLV Rebels on Tuesday at Lawlor Events Center:
Sherfield came up short in the biggest game of the year so far. With Desmond Cambridge out with a rib injury, Sherfield played all but 74 seconds of the game on Tuesday and seemed to wilt as the evening wore on.
Sherfield missed 14-of-22 shots, all six of his 3-pointers, only got to the line for three free throws, and finished with 19 points. The 14 errant shots equals (he was 2-of-16 against Wyoming in January 2021) his most misses in a game in his three-year college career.
Sherfield was fine in the first half as everyone in silver and black tried to figure out how to play without the team’s best and most confident shooter (Cambridge). Sherfield had 10 points in the first half, hit 5-of-10 shots, and even nailed a buzzer beater to give the Pack a 26-23 halftime lead. Sherfield also had seven points in a span of just 77 seconds to cut UNLV’s lead to 45-43 midway through the second half.
But Sherfield then vanished over the final 9:54, scoring just two points, at a time when he needed to take over the game. UNLV, playing on the road against its biggest rival with a coveted Top Five seed in the Mountain West tournament on the line, simply refused to let Sherfield take over the game. Sherfield took just three shots (all misses) in the final 9:54 even though he really had nobody to pass to.
Blackshear also came up small with Cambridge out, missing all seven of his shots (four threes), never getting to the free throw line, pulling down just two rebounds and not scoring a point in 36 minutes. He did have three steals and four assists so he didn’t give the Pack a total production-free 36 minutes.
But the Pack desperately needed offense without Cambridge and, well, Blackshear did almost nothing at that end of the floor. He missed five shots in the first half (two threes) and then took just two shots in his 19 second-half minutes. Having two starters (Blackshear, Tre Coleman) and an entire bench whose forte is defense is fine when Sherfield and Cambridge are on the floor. But when one of them is missing somebody, anybody needs to step up and help fill the void. Blackshear didn’t even take a shot in the final 12:48 when the Pack was begging for somebody, anyone to score.
Washington returned to the floor after an eight-game absence (broken fingers) and turned in one of his most efficient games of the season. The 7-foot center had 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting and pulled down 11 rebounds with two blocks in just 28 minutes. When Washington was on the floor the Pack outscored UNLV 41-34. He played 9:56 of the final 11:16 of the first half and didn’t score but did have six rebounds and two blocks as the Pack outscored UNLV 13-6. Washington also had an offensive rebound and a layup to give the Pack a 33-27 lead with 16:36 to play.
Washington’s performance against UNLV is one reason to be optimistic about the Pack’s chances in the Mountain West tournament in two weeks, despite what happened on Tuesday. The Pack outscored UNLV 36-22 in the paint, numbers that might have been reversed if Washington wasn't available.
Baker, coming off three consecutive games against Utah State and San Jose State when he scored 51 points combined on 23-of-30 shooting, had a more difficult time against the more physical Rebels. It also didn't help Baker that the Rebels' defense didn't have to worry about Cambridge outside the 3-point line. Baker was just 4-of-10 from the floor (1-of-4 on threes), didn’t get to the free throw line at all, and scored just nine points in 25 minutes. The 7-footer also had just three rebounds and turned the ball over twice.
Baker, though, was very productive over the game’s first 25 minutes, scoring all nine of his points in his first 19 minutes on the floor. Baker hit a 3-pointer for a 29-25 Pack lead 71 seconds into the second half and had a dunk for a 31-25 lead with 17:37 to play. That dunk, however, was the end of Baker’s offense. Baker was called for an offensive foul with 14:45 to go and the game tied (33-33) and coach Steve Alford buried him on the bench. Baker sat for roughly eight minutes and when he finally stepped back on the court the Pack was down 50-47 with just under seven minutes to play. After sitting the bench for eight minutes, though, Baker returned to missed three shots (two threes) as the Pack was outscored 12-3 over the next 5:42.
Coleman had a typical Coleman evening, scoring nine points (two threes) with three steals in 38 minutes. He had six points in the first half on 2-of-3 shooting. His layup and 3-pointer less than two minutes apart kept the Pack close six-plus minutes into the game. His steal led to a Daniel Foster layup as the Pack cut UNLV’s lead to 50-45 with 7:37 to play and his second 3-pointer cut UNLV’s lead to 60-50 with 3:15 left.
It was the type of Coleman performance that would have been a nice complement to Sherfield and Cambridge on a normal night. This, however, wasn’t a normal night with Cambridge out. Coleman didn’t have an assist in his 38 minutes and grabbed just one rebound on a night when the Pack was out-boarded 41-34.
Foster gave the Pack a solid 19 minutes, hitting both of his shots, scoring five points, with two steals and two rebounds. His five points were the Pack’s only scoring from the bench. Foster didn’t score in the first half but had a couple steals in his nine minutes. His five points came in a span of six minutes midway through the second half as the wheels began to fall off the Pack wagon.
Hymes didn’t score in his 13 minutes but he also took just two shots. The bulk of his minutes (nine) were spread almost evenly between one stretch in the first half and one in the second half. The Pack, though, was outscored 20-11 over those nine minutes as the offense disappeared. Half of Hymes’ four rebounds and two blocked shots came in the final 46 seconds with the game decided.
JALEN WEAVER: Incomplete
Weaver played just two minutes and turned the ball over once.
There’s likely no question the Pack wins this game with Cambridge, a guy who had 128 points, 27 threes, 37 rebounds, 14 assists, seven steals and 10 blocks over his last six games combined. But this was yet another opportunity for Alford to step up, steal a victory and push and pull his team across the finish line and, well, we're still waiting for that to happen. UNLV also played a horrible game and basically had just one guy (Bryce Hamilton with 27 points) who could score. And the Pack still lost. At home. In front of 9,000 fans.
Alford had a lot of questionable moves. But a few stand out. With the game tied 33-33 with 14:45 to go, Alford took out Baker and left a lineup of Hymes, Coleman, Blackshear, Foster and Sherfield on the floor for over four minutes. That was the beginning of the end for the Pack as Sherfield, on one of his rare off nights, was forced to pass the ball to four guys who basically couldn’t score. Alford also had Baker, the only real shooter for Sherfield to pass to all night, sit for nearly eight minutes in the middle of the second half and the center was basically useless the rest of the game. Foster, part of the worst offensive bench in the conference, played a stretch of 9:23 in the second half as the Pack was outscored 23-14.
Why does this team seem to fall apart when it is missing an important ingredient? Aren’t these the times that are supposed to justify hiring a veteran, expensive coach like Alford, so that he can inspire a short-handed team to win a game it doesn’t deserve to win, especially at home with 9,000 fans in the stands against its biggest rival?
Well, we now know that Batman (Sherfield) is just as helpless without Robin (Cambridge) as Robin is without Batman. Take away Sherfield or Cambridge from this Pack team and it’s like putting a child’s toy block on your axle to replace a flat tire. Nothing seems to work smoothly. Sherfield, after all, is the only one on the roster who can run the offense and Cambridge is the only one who has the courage to hit threes consistently. That needs to be remembered when the Pack sits down this off-season to retool its roster for the 2022-23 season.
This season is far from over but Cambridge and Sherfield need to basically each play 90 percent of the season’s remaining minutes for this team to do anything over the next three weeks. Together they are very good and can touch greatness at times. Alone, they are very mediocre.
The Pack is now 0-4 without both Sherfield and Cambridge in the lineup this year, averaging 58 points a game. Nobody (players, coaches) steps up in their absence and Alford never seems to have any answers or innovations to make up for their loss. Go ahead and blame it on the absence of Cambridge. But the Pack needed to find a way to win this game at home on a night when UNLV was equally as horrible and, well, it didn't happen.


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

Sign in to comment