Wolf Pack grades: Alford’s patience pays off with win

Nevada’s Will Baker throws down a dunk against New Mexico on Jan. 1, 2022 at Lawlor Events Center in Reno. (Photo: Nevada Athletics)

Nevada’s Will Baker throws down a dunk against New Mexico on Jan. 1, 2022 at Lawlor Events Center in Reno. (Photo: Nevada Athletics)

Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 79-70 victory over the New Mexico Lobos on Saturday at Lawlor Events Center:

STARTERS
GRANT SHERFIELD: B

Sherfield didn’t even attempt a shot until the game was nearly six minutes old. And he didn’t make one (he missed his first five shots) until it was six-plus minutes into the second half. So this wasn’t the type of performance that will win Sherfield the Mountain West Player of the Year award. But he didn’t force anything (he was just 2-of-8 from the floor) and didn’t shoot the Pack out of the game, like some point guards tend to do. Sherfield helped the Pack in other ways with 10 assists and six rebounds. His three free throws in the final 42 seconds were pivotal. His only two field goals came in a span of just 47 seconds, giving the Pack a 48-43 lead with just under 13 minutes to play. He would take just one shot the rest of the game as he concentrated on running the team (he played a game-high 37 minutes) instead.


DESMOND CAMBRIDGE: C
Cambridge tied for the game high (with New Mexico’s Jaelen House) in scoring with 18 points. But he had a miserable shooting night, missing 14-of-20 shots overall and 10-of-11 threes. In two games last week, against Kansas and New Mexico, Cambridge was 12-of-39 from the floor and 5-of-24 on threes. He missed his first seven threes against New Mexico before finally making one for a 59-48 lead with eight minutes to play. And then he missed his last three threes. Cambridge did salvage his night with five free throws in the final 74 seconds to help hold off the Lobos. Those five free throws were a welcome sight as the 6-4 senior was just 1-of-4 from the line over his four previous games combined. Cambridge also played solid defense with five rebounds (four defensive), three steals and a block but the Pack needs him to find his shooting touch soon.


WILL BAKER: B
Baker had one of his best games in a Wolf Pack uniform with a highly productive 12 points and a season-high 11 rebounds in 23 minutes. The 7-foot transfer from the University of Texas was 6-of-11 from the floor and had just one turnover and one foul after committing 14 turnovers and eight fouls over his three previous games combined. Baker’s most important stretch came in the first nine minutes of the second half. He assisted on a dunk by Kevin Blackshear as the Pack tied the game at 39-39 with 18-plus minutes to play. His dunk gave the Pack a 42-39 lead with 17:10 to play and his offensive rebound and layup put the Pack up 52-46 with 11 minutes left. When Baker isn’t turning the ball over or committing fouls he is a very productive player.


KENAN BLACKSHEAR: C+
Blackshear, a 6-6 guard from Orlando, missed three of his four 3-pointers but he found a way to contribute with nine points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal. Blackshear had an inconsistent night with three turnovers and three fouls but he had some big buckets and assists. His 3-point play gave the Pack a 25-24 lead with 5:30 to go in the first half and his layup tied the game at 39-39 with 18-plus minutes to play. He also had a 3-pointer for a 69-50 lead with 5:34 to play. His steal led to a Baker dunk and a 42-39 lead with 17 minutes left and he fed Warren Washington for a dunk and Tre Coleman for a 3-pointer 80 seconds apart for a 66-50 lead with six minutes to go.


WARREN WASHINGTON: B
The other half of the Pack’s Twin Towers with Baker was solid with 12 points and 11 boards in 28 minutes. The two centers combined for 24 points and 22 rebounds in 49 minutes and are the two biggest reasons why the Pack is a tough matchup for every Mountain West team they play. Washington also had four blocks, three assists and a steal. Yes, his turnover troubles continued (three) but he was called for just two fouls. His offensive rebound and an assist led to a 3-pointer by Sherfield and a 46-41 lead with 13:50 to play. Two of his blocks came 41 seconds apart early in the second half with the Pack leading just 40-39.


BENCH
TRE COLEMAN: B+

Coleman finally came back to life on the offensive end with a season-high 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting. His four field goals are also a season high. Coleman is now 5-of-9 from the floor over his last two games after going 9-of-53 over his first 10 games. He also made 2-of-4 threes after going 2-of-23 from beyond the arc over his previous nine games. Coach Steve Alford gave Coleman 33 of the 50 minutes he allotted to the entire bench. Those 33 minutes were also more than three starters (Blackshear, Baker, Washington) received. That’s because Coleman, who always gives a solid effort on defense, also pulled down four rebounds and made 3-of-4 free throws and found a way to contribute in a lot of areas. His final 3-pointer of the game gave the Pack a 66-50 lead with six minutes to go.


DANIEL FOSTER: D
Well, at least Foster gave the Pack 11 minutes. In those 11 minutes, however, the 6-6 guard did not score, did not take a shot or even get to the free throw line. He also didn’t pull down a rebound. Foster, though, somehow found a way to commit four fouls and turn the ball over twice in those 11 minutes. Foster certainly isn’t counted on to score (he’s taken just 18 shots all year, making six) but he has not scored over his last 36 minutes (two games) combined.


ALEM HUSEINOVIC: Incomplete
Huseinovic played just six minutes but he did contribute with an important five points and an assist, all in the first half. His assist led to a dunk by Cambridge to close out the first half. His 3-pointer cut the Lobos lead to 31-29 with 3:14 to play in the opening half. That 3-pointer likely caused New Mexico’s Jaelen House to then foul Huseinovic on another 3-pointer less than a minute later and the 6-4 guard from Bosnia and Herzegovina made 2-of-3 free throws.


COACHING: A
Steve Alford did a wonderful job grinding out this important Mountain West win with a rusty, shorthanded, travel-weary team. Alford’s patience with the Pack’s poor start against New Mexico (Nevada was down 22-13 midway through the first half) also paid off with a dominating stretch in the middle of the second half when the Pack took over the game. Some of that patience, of course, is due to the lack of choices Alford has on his bench right now. But his trust in Sherfield and Cambridge, even when they aren’t shooting well, was never more apparent than in this game. His trust in Coleman, a fellow Indiana native who has struggled mightily this year, also finally paid off.


OVERALL: B
New Mexico, which has a talented but young and inexperienced roster that barely knows each other, came along at the right time for the Wolf Pack. It also helped, of course, that the game was at Lawlor. Put this game in Albuquerque and the Pack likely would have limped home last weekend after a pair of tough losses. This wasn’t pretty. The Wolf Pack, after all, built a 69-50 lead with just five minutes to play and then couldn’t put away a mediocre Lobo team at home down the stretch until the final minute. But in this day and age of health and safety protocols and rosters that change daily, nobody is looking for works of art on the court. The Pack dragged this much-needed victory into their locker room kicking and screaming. But this is a gritty Wolf Pack team that knows how to win games when a victory is within reach. The Pack’s length and size with Washington and Baker won this game as it can on most nights in the Mountain West. And the experience and savvy leadership of Sherfield and Cambridge, who know how to contribute when the ball isn’t falling through the hoop, also doesn’t hurt.

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