Nevada grades: Pack gets what it needs at Air Force

Nevada’s Warren Washington (with ball) and Desmond Cambridge against Air Force on Jan. 15, 2022 in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Photo: Nevada Athletics)

Nevada’s Warren Washington (with ball) and Desmond Cambridge against Air Force on Jan. 15, 2022 in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Photo: Nevada Athletics)

Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 75-68 victory over the Air Force Falcons on Saturday in Colorado Springs:

Sherfield, as usual, was a steadying influence on his teammates and kept the Pack in control all game long. The Pack point guard ended up taking the most shots (17) and leading all scorers with 21 points but his offense didn’t come easy as he missed 10 of those 17 shots (6-of-9 misses inside the arc). The season has been a grind for the Pack guard. Sherfield had a brilliant four-game stretch from Nov. 23 through Dec. 15 when he made 39-of-67 shots (58 percent), connecting on 50 percent or more of his shots in each game as the Pack won all four times. Before and after those four games, though, Sherfield has shot 50 percent or better in just 1-of-10 games (six losses). Sherfield also finished the Air Force game with just three assists, two rebounds, three free throws and no steals so he has certainly had bigger impacts on other games in his two-year Pack career. But there was no need for him to simply take over this game since it was never really in doubt. He proved once again against Air Force that he doesn’t always have to shoot the lights out or fill up the stat sheet to help his team win. The Pack was down early, 12-9, and Sherfield responded with a pair of threes in the next minute to put the Pack up three. He had a 3-pointer for a 34-25 lead with just under two minutes to go in the first half. In the second half he had a huge 3-point play for a 46-38 lead with under 14 minutes to go, a jumper for a 50-41 lead with just under 11 minutes left and a crucial 3-pointer, arguably the biggest shot of the game, for a 69-61 lead with three minutes left.
Cambridge, too, continues to grind his way through this erratic season. The 6-foot-4 guard was just 3-of-11 from the floor, missing 6-of-7 threes. He did not get to the free throw line once and scored just seven points in 29 mostly frustrating minutes. Cambridge is now 7-of-23 overall from the floor and 2-of-16 on threes for 16 points combined in 56 minutes in his last two games against Air Force. Saturday was yet another example of when Cambridge is not hitting threes he struggles to contribute offensively. Cambridge, though, did salvage his performance somewhat against Air Force with a very productive two minutes down the stretch in the second half when he scored all seven of his points. Cambridge, who started 0-for-8 from the floor (0-for-6 on threes), came back off the bench with 8:53 to play. He promptly blocked a 3-point attempt by Air Force’s Ethan Taylor 20 seconds later and that seemed to ignite his offense. He hit a jumper for a 57-44 lead with 8:23 to play, a 3-pointer for a 60-49 lead with 7:03 to go and another jumper for a 62-51 lead with 6:30 left.
Blackshear missed all three of his 3-pointers but when he attacked the basket he was efficient, making 4-of-5 shots inside the arc. Blackshear finished with 11 points in 29 minutes and played his normally solid defense with six rebounds, a block and a steal. Blackshear scored the Pack’s first four points of the game and his 3-point play early in the second half gave the Pack a 39-30 lead. He also had a layup for a 55-44 lead with 9:20 to go. Blackshear gives a solid performance most every night which is something that cannot be overlooked in this unreliable pandemic season.
Washington sure packed a lot of productivity in his 21 minutes, scoring 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting, and pulling down nine rebounds. This is a game, against a small Air Force roster, that Washington and fellow center Will Baker should have dominated and they did. Washington did most of his damage on offense in the first three-plus minutes of the second half. He had a dunk for a 36-27 lead with 19:13 to go, a layup for a 41-33 lead 90 seconds later and another dunk for a 43-33 lead with 16:45 to go. He capped off his game with a key three-point play and a 72-64 lead with 1:46 left. Washington’s 21 minutes are the second fewest he’s played in his 13 games but his rebounds are tied for his third most. He had just 11 rebounds over his three previous games and 73 combined minutes so maybe he has earned some extra minutes on the floor moving forward.
Coleman was inserted back into the starting lineup after four games on the bench and, well, not much has changed. Coleman was just 1-of-4 from the floor, though, he did hit a 3-pointer three-plus minutes into the game for a 7-6 lead. He didn’t go to the free throw line and finished his 30 minutes with the same three points. Coleman also had just one rebound but did have three assists, a block and steal, so he continues to work hard. It’s just that he simply can’t find his offense. Coleman has scored just 51 points all season and almost half of that output (23) came in two games. The Pack is 6-3 when Coleman starts and 2-3 when he comes off the bench.

Baker, who started the first 13 games, was the one sent to the bench in favor of Coleman. But that move wasn’t as much a demotion for Baker as it was likely just coach Steve Alford’s way of finding some reliable offense off the bench. Baker did exactly that, scoring 11 points in 13 minutes, hitting 4-of-6 shots from the floor. He also had 10 rebounds to likely set a Pack school record for a double-double in the fewest minutes (13) played. Baker was also 3-of-4 from the line and even found the time to commit four fouls and four turnovers and block a shot. It is likely almost impossible to pack a stat sheet in just 13 minutes as much as Baker did against Air Force.
Foster had his best game of the year by far, scoring eight points, pulling down seven rebounds and dishing out five assists in 29 minutes. He scored those eight points without even taking an official shot. He was 8-of-10 from the line, almost matching Air Force’s 11-of-15 performance from the line all by himself. Foster’s eight points and five assists are his season highs and his seven boards tied his season high. His 29 minutes also equaled his career high (set twice last year). That’s a lot of minutes for a guy who didn’t take a shot but Foster, because of his hustle, has always been one of Alford’s favorites. Foster had five free throws in a span of less than two minutes late in the first half.
Huseinovic played eight minutes, missed his only shot (a 3-pointer) and was called for a foul but also pulled down two rebounds and had a steal. His steal led to a pair of free throws by Foster and a 31-25 lead with 2:24 left in the first half… Hymes played just five minutes and did contribute two points, a rebound and an assist. The Pack will become a much different team when the 6-foot-10 Hymes is able to contribute at least 12-15 minutes a game.
Alford was able to get his team refocused after a difficult 15-point loss to Boise State on Wednesday, get everyone on a plane and make sure they were ready to beat Air Force in Colorado less than 72 hours later. It wasn’t a work of art but games against a scrappy Air Force team rarely ever are works of art. The Falcons, which are 8-6 overall like the Pack, are small, not very athletic and can’t score the ball all that well so they do their best to make the game ugly. And it worked as well as can be expected against a big and very athletic Pack team. The Pack was in control the entire game but they never really buried the Falcons either. After beating Air Force on Saturday, Alford had to get his team back on a plane and focused on playing Wyoming two days later on Monday at Lawlor Events Center. There are NBA teams that have had easier schedules than the Pack recently.
Beating Air Force isn’t going to grab the attention of the NCAA Tournament selection committee or even win the Pack a Mountain West title. Most every team in the league will beat Air Force once or twice this year. But the Pack needed a win in the worst way on Saturday after what happened against Boise State. And don’t forget the Pack lost at home to Air Force 68-66 just last year when Sherfield and Cambridge combined for just 19 points. The encouraging news out of this game is that the Pack finally got some production out of its bench, thanks to Alford's switching of Baker for Coleman in the starting lineup. Baker, Foster and Hymes provided 19 points and 17 rebounds in just 42 combined minutes. Foster and Baker combined to score 10 Wolf Pack points (five each) in a row late in the first half to keep the Pack in front at the break (34-27).


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