Grading the Pack: Team needs to find focus and mental toughness for 40 minutes

Nevada head coach Steve Alford instructs his team against Boise State in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference men's tournament March 11 in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

Nevada head coach Steve Alford instructs his team against Boise State in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference men's tournament March 11 in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Discuss Comment, Blog about
  • Print Friendly and PDF
Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 77-66 loss to the Colorado State Rams on Tuesday at Fort Collins, Colo. ...



Sherfield and Colorado State point guard Isaiah Stevens had their hands full with each other at both ends of the floor. And we saw sort of a muted version of both players on Tuesday. The battle of arguably the two best point guards in the Mountain West ended in a draw. Both finished with 16 points and both struggled with their shot. Sherfield was a dismal 6-of-15, missing 5-of-7 threes, while Stevens was 5-of-12, missing 4-of-6 threes. The two also didn’t fill up the stat sheet in other areas. Sherfield had just three assists and Stevens had just one. Sherfield’s layup tied the game at 50-50 and his 3-pointer tied it at 56-56. But his shot disappeared in the final eight minutes (0-for-4 from the floor). More than half (nine) of his 16 points came in the first 13 minutes of the game and he didn’t have an assist over the final 13 minutes. It must be noted that Sherfield had just two free throws. Over his last four games he is just 9-of-10 from the line combined which suggests he is settling for jump shots and not attacking the basket, something he obviously needed to do on a night when he shot just 6-of-15.


Desmond Cambridge is back, Pack fans. The old Desmond Cambridge, the one who comes out of the locker room hoisting threes, finally returned to the floor. Cambridge was confident, brash, cocky and, yes, trigger-happy against the Rams. And it was a welcome sight for the Pack offense. He threw up 19 shots, 13 outside the 3-point line. And he even made some of them. Cambridge was 9-of-19 overall and 5-of-13 on threes and finished with a game-high 23 points. This is the same guy who had scored just 22 points and was 1-of-14 on threes over his last three games combined. The last two games he took just 17 shots combined. But that was gun-shy Cambridge. Confident Cambridge showed up in Fort Collins, throwing up a shot just 12 seconds into the game. Cambridge also had three steals, two assists, five rebounds and a block and was the best Pack player on the floor.


Blackshear looked out of control on offense and, as usual, struggled to avoid the officials’ whistle. He was just 2-of-5 from the floor, missed all three of his threes and finished with seven points in 30 minutes. Blackshear was called for four fouls and turned the ball over three times. His best flurry came in the final two minutes of the first half when he had a pair of free throws for a 32-24 lead with 2:01 to go and an assist on a Will Baker jumper in the paint for a 34-24 lead with 53 seconds left. He also had a jumper 72 seconds into the second half for a 39-32 lead. The rest of his evening, though, was mainly filled with turnovers, missed shots and fouls.


The 7-foot center fell on his hand in the lane three minutes into the game, injured a finger and played just two-plus minutes the rest of the night. Washington was credited with six minutes of playing time, one rebound, one foul, one steal, a turnover and a block. Don’t blame this Pack loss on the absence of Washington. Colorado State, after all, was without two key players (Adam Thistlewood and John Tonje). But the Pack could have used his defense in the paint as Colorado State attacked the rim late in the game for easy baskets.


Baker nearly had a double-double (11 points, nine rebounds) to go along with two assists in 27 minutes. His 3-pointer opened the scoring just 45 seconds into the game. He then took just two more from long distance the rest of the night and, for some goofy reason, none over the game’s final 45 minutes. Baker had a three-point play in the first minute of the second half for a 37-29 Pack lead and then scored just one more point the rest of the game. The Pack obviously needs Baker’s offense (he’s one of the best shooters on the team) but there doesn’t seem to be much effort to get him the ball for long stretches. And the Pack offense, as we saw on Tuesday, suffers. That’s on Alford and Sherfield.



Coleman showed why he continues to get substantial minutes even though he mainly contributes on just one end of the floor. The sophomore was outstanding on defense even though the final numbers don’t show it. He played 29 minutes and had just two rebounds and no blocks or steals but he made life miserable for the Rams’ offense just the same. Coleman, who had three points, took just one shot, driving the baseline for a layup to tie the game at 61-61 with 6:44 to play. But offense is not his concern, given his 24 percent shooting rate. How much does coach Steve Alford like Coleman’s defense? Well, Alford kept Coleman on the floor for the final minutes despite the fact that Coleman rarely shoots or scores while the Pack’s offense was in the process of completely drying up. That might have been a mistake on Alford’s part.


Foster, another one of Alford’s favorites, played just 14 minutes and didn’t take a shot or score. But he did equal Sherfield in assists with three. He assisted on Sherfield’s 3-pointer that tied the game at 56-56 with 8:26 left. Foster was taken out of the game with the score tied 63-63 with 5:43 to play (replaced by Blackshear) and the Pack was outscored 14-3 the rest of the way.


This could have been a breakout game for Hymes with Washington on the bench for all but six minutes. But Hymes’ long-time nemesis - foul trouble - spoiled all that. Hymes played just 17 minutes before fouling out with four of his fouls coming in the final 13-plus minutes. But when Hymes was on the floor the Pack was at its best. In Hymes’ first five-plus minutes, early in the first half, he had a block, steal, dunk and rebound as the Pack took a 17-11 lead nine minutes into the game. He had a pair of free throws for a 27-20 lead with five minutes left in the half. His offensive rebound and layup gave the Pack a 48-47 lead with 13 minutes to play and his steal led to a Coleman layup that tied the game at 61-61 with 6:44 left. Hymes got his fourth foul with 5:25 to play and the Pack trailing just 64-63 and was taken out of the game. When he got back on the court with 1:51 left, the Pack was down 71-63.


Huseinovic played just three minutes (for Blackshear), missed a 3-pointer, pulled down a rebound and turned the ball over once.


Alford has his team playing with great energy and intensity once again. Now they just have to find a way to combine that energy and intensity with focus and mental toughness that lasts 40 minutes. The last six minutes in Fort Collins were, well, a mess. Alford needs to figure out why his team stops listening to him and vanishes in the final minutes before this season also vanishes. Don’t forget the Pack nearly gave away a double-digit lead with five minutes to go against Fresno State last Friday at home and were outplayed over the final seven-plus minutes at home against Wyoming on Jan. 17. The Pack simply melted down at both ends of the floor against the Rams. Colorado State’s David Roddy, a 6-foot-5, 255-pound beast, played the game with a determined growl and simply bullied his team (and the Pack) to victory in the final six minutes. The Pack responded by turning the ball over, fouling, forgetting to run the offense and throwing up silly threes. Alford needed to somehow seize control of his team (and the vanishing momentum) in those final six minutes and, well, that never happened.


This game got away from the Pack quicker than Jay Norvell ran away to Fort Collins last month. But there’s no real shame in losing to a very good Rams team whose two outstanding veterans (Roddy, Stevens) simply refused to lose at home. We saw that Roddy and Stevens have the mental toughness and determination that Alford wants from his team. Hopefully they took notes. The first 34 minutes was as well as the Pack has played all year, given the setting and the opponent. But college basketball’s history is littered with forgotten teams who played well for 34 minutes and wilted under the pressure of the last six minutes. The Pack was outscored 50-32 in the second half, missed 20-of-28 threes, turned the ball over 14 times, got to the line for just 14 free throws and Sherfield missed 9-of-15 shots, scored just 16 points and had just three assists. That’s not a formula for beating good teams on the road.



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

Sign in to comment