Grading Nevada: Pack keeps it close (somehow) at Boise

Nevada's Grant Sherfield (with Will Baker in the background) at Boise State on March 1, 2022.

Nevada's Grant Sherfield (with Will Baker in the background) at Boise State on March 1, 2022.

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Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 73-67 loss to the Boise State Broncos on Tuesday at Boise, Idaho:

What has happened to Grant Sherfield? Is he hurt? Has he lost confidence? Have other teams finally figured out how to bottle him up? Is he not getting any help from his teammates? Is it all those things?
Whatever the reason, the Pack point guard scored just 10 points at Boise State on 4-of-11 shooting. He had six assists but also turned the ball over six times. And he almost completely disappeared in the second half, shooting 1-for-7, handing out just two assists and not making a shot over the final 9:39 with the game on the line.
Sherfield’s night fell off the table on Tuesday with 2:34 to go in the first half. He had just hit two short jumpers in the paint in a row to pull the Pack to within 34-33 with 2:52 to go in the half. At that point Sherfield was 3-of-4 from the floor for six points and four assists. Coach Steve Alford then sat him down for the final 2:34 of the first half and Sherfield never recovered, scoring just four points with two assists on 1-of-7 shooting the rest of the way.
Over the last three games (all losses), Sherfield has shot just 17-of-49 (35 percent) overall, a stunning 2-of-17 on threes and has scored just 41 points. He’s also gotten to the free throw line (2-of-2 on Tuesday) for just eight shots over his last four games combined. Sherfield is also not playing much defense this year. He didn’t have a steal against Boise, the 10th time over his last 14 games that has happened and the 14th time this year in 25 games. Last year he had at least one steal in all 26 games. The Wolf Pack is not built to win when Sherfield is ordinary.
See all the questions under Sherfield’s name above. They all apply to Cambridge right now, too. As Sherfield goes, so goes Desmond Cambridge. That has at least been the case the last two games. Cambridge scored just nine points against Boise on 4-of-10 shooting (1-of-6 threes). Over the last two games (losses at Wyoming, Boise), Sherfield is 9-of-27 from the floor, 2-of-11 on threes, with 22 points. Cambridge is 9-of-25 overall, 3-of-11 on threes, with 21 points. The Wolf Pack is certainly not built to win when both Sherfield and Cambridge are ordinary.
Cambridge was basically invisible the entire game except for a brief 90-second flurry when he hit a jumper and a 3-pointer to cut Boise’s lead to just 64-63 with 4:45 to go. Cambridge, though, didn’t even take a shot until there was just 4:27 to go in the first half. He didn’t make one until there was 17:07 to go in the game. The 19 points by Sherfield and Cambridge combined on Tuesday is the lowest in their Pack careers (50 games) when both players have played at least 30 minutes.
While Sherfield and Cambridge have struggled the last two games, Kenan Blackshear has stepped up and turned in a pair of solid performances. Blackshear scored a team-high 16 points against Boise State, hitting 6-of-10 shots, a pair of threes and grabbing two steals. The last two games he has gone 10-of-16 from the floor for 27 points. Blackshear, who hit a shot with a second to go in the first half to give the Pack momentum heading into the locker room, almost single-handedly got the Pack back into the game in the second half. In a span of just two minutes, he scored 10 consecutive Pack points to slice Boise’s lead to just 62-58 with 6:06 to go. His steal and subsequent jumper with 8:06 to go started the Pack uprising.
But, for some reason, Blackshear didn’t take a shot in the final six minutes, though he did miss a free throw with 2:53 to go with the Pack down just 69-65.
Baker contributed 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting and pulled down three rebounds with two assists in 20 minutes. When Baker was on the floor the Pack outscored Boise State 37-36 and it is because Baker was extremely productive. He was the only Pack player to score in the first seven minutes of the game.
In a span of 37 seconds he had five points as the Pack tied the game at 27-27 with 5:19 to play in the opening half. He hit a short jumper to cut Boise’s lead to 47-44 with 15:35 to go in the game and he had a pair of assists two minutes apart midway through the second half. Baker had 10 points in the first half on 4-of-7 shooting and, for some reason, played just nine minutes in the second half and took just two shots (he made them both). Alford sat him out for five straight minutes starting with just under 15 minutes to play in the game and the Pack was outscored 9-2. Baker then played four minutes in a row and the Pack outscored Boise 12-4.
Who knew Steve Alford loved defense so much? Alford continues to play Tre Coleman big minutes (31 on Tuesday), knowing that he is going to get little offensive production out of the 6-foot-7 sophomore. Coleman scored just two points (he was 1-of-3 from the floor) in his 31 minutes and also didn’t have an assist. But he did have three steals and four rebounds and he always makes things messy for the other team’s offense that aren’t seen away from the ball.
Coleman didn’t get to the free throw line and he turned the ball over twice. So, as usual, it was a mixed bag with Coleman on the floor on Tuesday. Boise State outscored the Pack 26-13 in Coleman’s 12 first-half minutes and the Pack outscored Boise State 22-15 when Coleman was on the bench for eight minutes. In the second half, though, Coleman played all but 88 seconds of the 20 minutes and the Pack outscored Boise State 32-29 when he was on the floor.

Washington has been the most efficient and productive player (minute for minute) on the roster in his three games back from a finger injury. He scored 12 points against the Broncos in 25 minutes, hitting 5-of-6 shots with six rebounds and two blocks. The last three games (75 minutes) he has scored 35 points on 16-of-21 shooting (76 percent) with 23 rebounds. The Pack was down 12-5 seven minutes into the game when Washington stepped on the court. He then played nine-plus minutes in a row, scoring eight points, as the Pack outscored Boise 24-19 to narrow the deficit to just 31-29 with just under four minutes to go in the half. The Pack, though, wasn’t so fortunate and efficient in the second half when Washington was on the floor. The 7-foot center played 12:46 of the 20 minutes in the second half, scoring just four points as the Pack was outscored 22-16.
Foster gave the Wolf Pack a productive and inspiring 12 minutes against Boise. The 6-6 sophomore scored five points and had five rebounds and an assist. Almost all of Foster’s positive moments, however, came during his six minute stretch midway through the first half. He drained a 3-pointer to cut Boise’s lead to 19-14 with 10:44 to go in the half and his two free throws gave the Pack a 20-19 lead with 9:04 to go before halftime. In the second half, however, Foster played a stretch of six minutes without scoring and grabbed just two rebounds as the Pack was outscored 11-4.
Hymes played 11 minutes, didn’t score, took just one silly shot (a 3-pointer), committed a foul and didn’t even grab a rebound. Hymes played five minutes in a row midway through the first half, assisted on Foster’s 3-pointer as the Pack narrowed a 12-5 deficit to just 22-20 with eight minutes to go in the half. The Pack, though, was outscored 10-2 over Hymes’ last five-plus minutes and the 6-10 center didn’t even play in the final 11:43 of the game.
Give Steve Alford credit for somehow keeping his Wolf Pack competitive on the road against one of the best teams in the league, especially on a night when Sherfield and Cambridge seemed afraid to exert themselves (just 21 combined shots).
But was that competitiveness the result of Alford’s coaching or stretches of Boise State simply getting bored? Alford continues to do the same things with his rotations and the Pack keeps losing. Why did Baker play just 20 minutes and Washington just 25 on a night when together they outscored Sherfield, Cambridge and Coleman 25-21 despite playing 54 fewer  minutes combined? We understand that Alford is afraid his two 7-foot centers will either melt, collapse from exhaustion or foul out if given more minutes. But why not find out for sure, especially when there is another 7-footer (Hymes) on the bench itching to get on the floor?
Giving 99 minutes combined to Sherfield, Cambridge and Coleman certainly didn’t work on Tuesday. They were 9-of-24 from the floor with two free throws for 21 points with 11 turnovers. But Alford isn’t one to fool with his rotations (hey, buddy, it worked back in late November and early December for five games, didn’t it?) even if the team has lost 11 of its last 16 games over the last two months.
The Pack just might beat San Diego State at home on Saturday if it plays like it did at Boise State. San Diego State, after all, will be on the road, won’t have much to play for in the Mountain West regular season finale and, well, the Aztecs can’t score. But we’re not all that sure the Pack can beat anybody right now in the conference except the three teams (New Mexico, Air Force, San Jose State) behind them in the standings. The Wolf Pack lost by just six at Boise but for most of the game the deficit felt like 16. Don’t let an out-of-body experience late in the second half when the Pack hit all four of its shots (three 3-pointers) and all four of its free throws to narrow a 60-50 deficit with 7:47 to go to just 66-65 with 4:11 left cloud your judgment about what actually happened on Tuesday.
Take away that 3:36 stretch and the Pack was outscored 67-52 over the other 36-plus minutes. The Pack led (by one point) for just 61 seconds the entire game. Why did Cambridge and Sherfield combine for just 21 shots? The fewest shots the two have combined for in their Pack careers is 20. That happened twice, both last year in blowout wins over William Jessup and UNLV. The Pack didn’t need Sherfield and Cambridge to shoot those nights, winning both games by 22 and 29 points. They needed them on Tuesday. Teams are not allowing the two Pack stars to take over games because they know the rest of the Pack roster is either afraid to shoot or Alford simply won’t play them more than half the game.


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