Wolf Pack grades: Gut check time for Nevada

Nevada’s Grant Sherfield shoots over Wyoming’s Brendan Wenzel on Jan. 17, 2022 at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.

Nevada’s Grant Sherfield shoots over Wyoming’s Brendan Wenzel on Jan. 17, 2022 at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.

Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 77-67 loss to the Wyoming Cowboys on Monday at Lawlor Events Center…

Sherfield, likely because he didn’t leave the floor at all and was playing his third game in the last six nights, melted down in the second half. He was 2-of-8 from the floor after the break, missing all four of his 3-pointers, while turning the ball over twice and scoring just six points.
He was, however, outstanding in the first half, scoring 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting (2-of-3 on threes) with five assists. He had a brilliant four-minute stretch starting at the 10-minute mark of the first half when he had three assists, a rebound and a successful jumper, turning a 19-16 Pack deficit into a 27-21 lead. He also scored seven points in the final four minutes of the half.
A repeat performance of that in the second half likely would have resulted in a Pack victory. But three games in six days with little practice time combined with two plane flights in the middle, resulted in frustration in the second half. Sherfield finished with 20 points and eight assists (the guy knows how to fill a stat sheet because, well, he is always on the floor and always has the ball), but he missed 11-of-19 shots and 5-of-7 threes and got to the free throw line just once (two shots).
Cambridge, who once was the Robin to Sherfield’s Batman, has turned into some strange combination of Dick Grayson, Alfred the butler and Commissioner Gordon. In other words, he is losing his crime-fighting powers as Sherfield’s faithful sidekick.
The 6-foot-4 guard struggled once again against Wyoming, missing 6-of-9 shots and misfiring on all four of his 3-pointers. He also once again failed to get to the free throw line even once and finished with a mere six points in 36 minutes. Alfred the butler could do better.
Cambridge saw his 36-game streak of making at least one three come to an end. It was just the second game in Cambridge’s 41-game Pack career that he did not make a 3-pointer. Cambridge’s lack of success from beyond the arc (he’s just 11-of-47 over his last six games) has apparently resulted in a lack of confidence. His four 3-point attempts equaled his fewest (set twice last year) in his Pack career. Cambridge, though, never forgets he is one of the Pack leaders and he continues to work hard at the other end of the floor even if his 3-point attempts are startling birds in Sparks. His nine rebounds led the Pack against Wyoming and he also had a block and a steal.
Blackshear hit on a team-best three 3-pointers on a team-high eight attempts. The most threes he had taken in a game this season (his first at Nevada) before Monday was four. All of Blackshear’s 11 points were important. His first three tied the game at 21-21 with under eight minutes to play in the first half, his second three cut Wyoming’s lead to 57-55 and his third cut Wyoming’s lead to 68-61.
Blackshear also had a pair of free throws with two minutes to play to trim the deficit to 73-67. Blackshear also had eight important rebounds and a pair of steals, all in just 27 minutes. It might be time for Alford to give Blackshear, one of the grittiest Pack players, more minutes on the floor.
Washington played 20 minutes and took just two shots (he made them both) and had just four rebounds, no blocks and no steals.
Alford needs to figure out who is to blame for a 7-foot center getting just two shots in 20 minutes. The two shots are the fewest Washington has had at Nevada in his career when he has played 20 or more minutes. Foul trouble, a Washington problem throughout his two-year Pack career, showed up again with four whistles. Alford admitted his team got pushed around by Boise State and Wyoming in the past week and, well, Washington had just seven rebounds and no blocks in 44 minutes in those two games combined.
Baker was put back into the starting lineup after a one-game experiment on the bench and responded with 12 points and five rebounds in 22 minutes. His only successful 3-pointer (in four tries) tied the game at 5-5. His layup gave the Pack a 23-21 lead with seven minutes left in the first half and Cambridge fed him for another layup to cut Wyoming’s lead to 37-34 two minutes before the break. Baker went to the free throw line twice just 30 seconds apart and made 3-of-4, cutting Wyoming’s lead to 53-50 with 10:36 to go. Baker then missed a jumper in the paint with 10 minutes to play and did little for the next three plus minutes before Alford sat him down for all but 23 seconds of the final 6:34 with the game on the line.

Coleman was back on the bench against Wyoming, though he did see 30 minutes on the floor (more time than three starters). Alford has exhibited tremendous faith in his 6-7 forward the past two seasons with little to show for it except some hustle on the defensive end.
Coleman missed all three of his 3-point attempts and finished his 30 minutes with six points, two rebounds, no assists, a turnover, a steal and three fouls. Coleman, who doesn’t shoot much and makes even fewer (he’s shooting just 23 percent this season), also now has not had a single assist in five of his last eight games. It must be noted, however, that his six points against Wyoming are tied for the third most he’s had in a game this season.
Foster followed his best game of the year against Air Force on Saturday (eight points, seven rebounds, five assists in 29 minutes) with one of his worst on Monday against Wyoming. He played just 11 minutes, missed all three of his shots (all threes), had one assist, didn’t have a rebound, block or steal and committed a foul and a turnover.
Hymes, who has played just six games all season because of injuries, had arguably his best game of the year. He contributed seven points and five rebounds in 14 minutes, making 2-of-4 shots and 3-of-4 free throws. The 6-10 center, who is constantly in motion, had a pair of offensive rebounds and also found the time to commit three fouls.
Hymes played six-plus minutes in the first half and hit two free throws for a 14-10 lead and a jumper to tie it at 16-16. In the second half he played a stretch of five-plus minutes and had an offensive rebound and a layup to tie the game at 42-42 and an offensive rebound that led to two free throws (he made one) to cut Wyoming’s lead to 47-43 . Hymes, though, played just 78 seconds out of the final 14 minutes as Wyoming pulled away.
The Wolf Pack simply never responded to anything Alford did on Monday. Alford took the blame after the game for what he called his soft and weak-minded team but it likely isn’t his fault at all. It’s really nobody’s fault except a silly health-and-safety protocol season that simply finally buried the Pack over the last week (three games in six days). The Pack, because of its thin bench and its lack of consistent practice time, is not equipped to deal right now with such a grueling schedule.
Alford, though, does have some issues to figure out. The first thing he needs to fix is a team-wide shooting funk. That should come back with a few productive practices as the schedule eases up. But the larger issue is that Alford can’t seem to find the right combinations for this team, a group that has been stretched thin by injuries, sickness, poor play and one player (A.J. Bramah) getting kicked off the team two weeks into the season.
Alford is constantly subbing guys in and out and that seems to have robbed them of their rhythm and confidence. His starters not named Sherfield and Cambridge rarely get more than 25 minutes a game. It might be time for Washington, Baker, Blackshear and Hymes to get added playing time.
There were so many disappointing things taking place Monday that it was difficult at times to digest them all. The second half was one of the worst 20 minutes that an Alford team has played at home since he got to Nevada in 2019-20. The Pack was 8-of-32 from the floor and missed 17-of-19 threes. The Pack lost by 10 (it felt like 20) to a team that had just two players (Graham Ike and Drake Jeffries) play well. Wyoming point guard Hunter Maldonado had 11 assists but he also missed 11-of-14 shots and turned the ball over five times. But the Pack basically disappeared over the final nine minutes with the game on the line.
Alford also needs to figure out how a team with three players (Washington, Baker, Hymes) at or near 7-feet tall, keeps getting pushed around. That should not happen anywhere, let alone at home. But, as Alford pointed out, it’s not just physical toughness this team has lacked lately. It’s also mental toughness and a team with veterans like Sherfield and Cambridge should also not allow that to happen.
The bottom line is that the Pack let an always-important Mountain West home game get away after doing the very same thing against Boise State six days earlier. That is disturbing and Alford promised Monday night to find out what his team is made of with more grueling practices. That could either save or destroy this season depending on whether this team is truly soft mentally and physically or merely exhausted right now.
Either way, it’s gut-check time for this Pack team with challenging road games at Colorado State, UNLV, Fresno State, Utah State, Wyoming and Boise State (and San Diego State if the Jan. 8 game is rescheduled) awaiting them in the near future.


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