Nevada’s Warren Washington had 12 points and 11 rebounds against New Mexico on Jan. 1, 2021 in Reno. (Photo: Nevada Athletics)
Steve Alford saw the best of his Nevada Wolf Pack basketball team midway through the second half Saturday night against the New Mexico Lobos.
“We had a stretch where we were very hard to play against,” said Alford after Nevada’s 79-70 Mountain West-opening victory over the Lobos at Lawlor Events Center.
The Wolf Pack (7-5, 1-0), No. 6 in this week’s Nevada Appeal Mountain West rankings, trailed 36-35 at the half and led just 52-48 midway through the second half.
The Pack then went on a 17-2 run to take a 69-50 lead with 5:34 to play as Tre Coleman, Desmond Cambridge and Kenan Blackshear each drilled a 3-pointer.
“Our energy was good,” said Alford of the Pack, which suffered an 88-61 loss at Kansas just three nights earlier. “Our intensity was good. We were very active defensively.”
No. 10 New Mexico (7-7, 0-1) outscored Nevada 20-10 over the final 4:34, coming as close as five (75-70) with 36 seconds to go. But five free throws by Cambridge and three by Grant Sherfield over the final 1:14 held off the Lobos. The Pack held New Mexico to 36 percent shooting (23-of-64) shooting from the floor and just 30 percent (10-of-33) in the second half.
“From South Dakota State (a 102-75 loss on Nov. 22) we’ve had tremendous growth defensively,” Alford said. “Really good growth.”
The Wolf Pack used its superior size to advantage. Will Baker and Warren Washington, a pair of 7-foot centers, each had 12 points and 11 rebounds. All five starters had five or more rebounds.
“We knew they were a smaller team,” Baker said. “We knew we had to get in the paint.”
The Wolf Pack outscored New Mexico 38-22 in the paint after getting outscored at Kansas 46-14 near the basket.
“We’re bigger than they (New Mexico) are,” said Alford, the Lobos’ head coach for six seasons (2007-13). “We wanted to establish ourselves in the paint. That’s a flip of what happened in Lawrence (Kansas).”
The Wolf Pack’s game against Wyoming this Tuesday at Lawlor Events Center has been canceled because of health and safety protocols within the Wyoming program. The Wolf Pack’s second Mountain West game is scheduled for Saturday at San Diego State.
“Everybody knows in conference it gets gritty,” said Cambridge who scored a game-high 18 points (along with New Mexico’s Jaelen House) against New Mexico. “Everybody we play has more film. Conference games are way more difficult. It’s tougher to win games. There is way more defense.”
No. 1 Colorado State (10-0), which has not played a game since beating Mississippi State 66-63 on Dec. 11, will return to the court for two games this week, hosting Air Force on Tuesday and traveling to Boise State on Friday.
No. 2 San Diego State (9-3, 1-0) beat No. 9 UNLV 62-55 on Saturday despite missing 12-of-15 3-pointers and 9-of-24 free throws. Matt Bradley led the Aztecs with 17 points while Donovan Williams had 16 points and Bryce Hamilton had 15.
UNLV coach Kevin Kruger was happy with the Rebels (8-6, 0-1) defense against the Aztecs. “With the best defensive performance that we put together this season we would have loved to end up with a win,” Kruger said. “But that’s what San Diego State will do to you.”
UNLV shot just 30 percent (19-of-64) from the floor. San Diego State had a 55-42 rebounding edge despite Royce Hamm’s 14 rebounds for UNLV.
“Those guys (San Diego State) crash (the boards) relentlessly,” Hamm said. “If you don’t put your body on the guy and try to go get the ball, they’re coming. They’re crashing.”
No. 3 Boise State (10-4, 1-0) beat No. 4 Fresno State (10-4, 0-1), 65-55, behind 18 points (four threes) from Marcus Shaver.
Fresno State got 22 points from Orlando Robinson but the Bulldogs went to the free throw line for just two shots and also missed 14-of-18 threes.
“We played in front of a nice big crowd (the attendance was not announced) and I thought we clammed up a little bit in the first half,” Fresno State coach Justin Hutson said. “They took us by surprise in the first half and punched us in the mouth.”
Fresno State led 50-48 after a jumper in the paint by Robinson with six minutes to play. But Boise State went on a 17-5 run the rest of the game.
“It was a fight,” Robinson said. “We fought hard but we kind of let go on the rope a little toward the end and Boise punished us for it.”
No. 7 Air Force (8-4, 1-0) beat No. 8 Utah State, 49-47 at home as A.J. Walker scored 16 points and Jake Heidbreder added 14. Utah State (9-5, 0-1) was just 17-of-52 (33 percent) from the floor and 1-of-19 on threes.
“We just couldn’t put the ball in the hole,” said Justin Bean, who led Utah State with 18 points and 10 rebounds. “They made it tough for us and they made us hesitant.”
Utah State coach Ryan Odom took responsibility for the Aggies’ poor shooting game. “I didn’t have them ready offensively to compete against their defense,” Odom said.
The Nevada Appeal’s Mountain West men’s basketball rankings for the week of Jan. 3:
1. COLORADO STATE (10-0, 0-0). Last week: No games. This week: Air Force at Colorado State (Tuesday), Colorado State at Boise State (Friday).
2. SAN DIEGO STATE (9-3, 1-0). Last week: San Diego State 62, UNLV 55. This week: Nevada at San Diego State (Saturday).
3. BOISE STATE (10-4, 1-0). Last week: Boise State 65, Fresno State 55. This week: Colorado State at Boise State (Friday).
4. FRESNO STATE (10-4, 0-1). Last week: Boise State 65, Fresno State 55. This week: Wyoming at Fresno State (Saturday).
5. WYOMING (11-2, 0-0). Last week: No games. This week: Wyoming at Fresno State (Saturday).
6. NEVADA (7-5, 1-0). Last week: Kansas 88, Nevada 61 . . . Nevada 79, New Mexico 70. This week: Nevada at San Diego State (Saturday).
7. AIR FORCE (8-4, 1-0). Last week: Air Force 49, Utah State 47. This week: Air Force at Colorado State (Tuesday). UNLV at Air Force (Saturday).
8. UTAH STATE (9-5, 0-1). Last week: Air Force 49, Utah State 47. This week: Utah State at New Mexico (Saturday).
9. UNLV (8-6, 0-1). Last week: San Diego State 62, UNLV 55. This week: UNLV at Air Force (Saturday).
10. NEW MEXICO (7-7, 0-1). Last week: Nevada 79, New Mexico 70. This week: Utah State at New Mexico (Saturday).
11. SAN JOSE STATE (6-5, 0-0). Last week: No games. This week: No games.
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