Grading Nevada: Pack can take positives from loss

Nevada's Grant Sherfield dribbles against San Diego State's Joshua Tomaic on March 5, 2022 at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.

Nevada's Grant Sherfield dribbles against San Diego State's Joshua Tomaic on March 5, 2022 at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.

Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 79-78 loss to the San Diego State Aztecs on Saturday at Lawlor Events Center:

Sherfield returned to life on Saturday, scoring 30 points, hitting three threes, making free throws (9-of-12) and dishing out seven assists. He rarely left the floor (39 minutes), took the most shots (19), took the most threes (eight) and simply put his stamp on the entire game. It’s the type of dominating performance the Wolf Pack hasn’t gotten out of its floor leader often since the Mountain West season began on Jan. 1. Sherfield had a brilliant first half, scoring more than half (17-of-33) the Pack’s first-half points.
Sherfield, though, was just 2-of-5 from the floor for eight points in the first 15 minutes of the second half as the Pack fell behind by as much as 18 points. But that’s proof of how much the Pack needed him Saturday. He assisted on 3-pointers by Will Baker and Desmond Cambridge 59 seconds apart as the Pack cut the Aztecs lead to one in the final minute. Sherfield, who had five assists in the second half, then had a chance to send the Pack to the Mountain West tournament with a thrilling comeback victory but he his shot in the paint and a 3-pointer in the final seconds were both blocked.
Cambridge had four steals but struggled with his shot again, draining just 3-of-12 from the floor and 2-of-7 threes for a dozen points in 35 minutes. Cambridge’s production has flattened out the last five games since he scored 36 and 27 points in consecutive games against Colorado State and Utah State on Feb. 11 and 15, hitting 23-of-31 shots and 12-of-18 threes. Over his last five games Cambridge has averaged just 12.8 points on 22-of-60 shooting overall and 12-of-32 on threes.
Cambridge only scored four points in the first half against the Aztecs on 1-of-4 shooting as Sherfield dominated the ball. His struggles continued for the first 10-plus minutes of the second half as he missed four more shots. Cambridge salvaged his evening somewhat by scoring eight points in the final 3:31, even nailing a 3-pointer with 15 seconds to play to cut San Diego State’s lead to just 79-78.
Blackshear kept shooting and kept missing all night long. He was 2-of-11 from the floor for just eight points in 34 minutes. Blackshear, who had a couple steals against the Aztecs, has been wildly inconsistent on offense over his last four games, going 10-of-16 combined against Wyoming and Boise State for 27 points on Feb. 26 and March 5 and missing 16-of-18 shots for just eight points combined against UNLV (Feb. 22) and San Diego State. Nearly all of Blackshear’s offense on Saturday came midway through the second half when he converted a 3-point play with 11:30 to go and hit a 3-pointer with just under nine minutes left. He missed his first eight shots on the night, including three layups and a dunk.
Coleman simply couldn’t stay on the floor on Saturday, fouling out after playing just 14 minutes. When he was on the floor he had just two points (he made his only shot, a layup early in the second half), one rebound and a turnover. He picked up three fouls in the second half in under seven minutes of playing time and fouled out with 9:35 to go and the Pack trailing 62-46. The Wolf Pack then proceeded to outscore the Aztecs 32-17 over the final 9:35 without Coleman, surprisingly even playing better defense without their defensive specialist.
Washington was productive once again, turning in a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) in just 27 minutes. The last four games (102 minutes) he has scored 46 points on 20-of-29 shooting with 33 rebounds. He also had just one foul against the Aztecs for one of the most efficient games in his two-year Pack career. Washington scored seven points and had four rebounds over a five-minute stretch late in the second half as the Pack rallied to get back in the game. His dunk with 2:20 to go pulled the Pack to within 75-71. Nine of his 11 points came in the second half. His only bucket in the first half gave the Pack an 18-13 lead 11 minutes into the game.

Baker gave the Pack offense a shot in the arm off the bench, scoring 11 points in just 17 minutes. He played a stretch of 5:13 midway through the first half, scoring five points. He then played a stretch of 5:10 early in the second half and missed three shots and turned the ball over once as the Pack fell behind 61-46. Baker, though, did hit a 3-pointer with 1:14 to play that cut the Aztecs’ lead to 77-75. Baker added three rebounds and an assist and turned the ball over three times and missed two of his five free throws.
Foster didn’t give the Pack a ton of production in his 23 minutes (three points, three rebounds) but he was on the floor for the final 9:35 as the Pack clawed back into the game. His 3-pointer cut the Aztecs’ lead to 68-56 with just under seven minutes to play. The rest of his night, though, was filled with fouls (four), a turnover and empty minutes. Foster didn’t have an assist, steal or block or get to the free throw line.
Hymes played 11 minutes (7:38 in the first half) and didn’t take a shot. His free throw gave the Pack a 14-13 lead with 11 minutes to go in the first half. Hymes did have four rebounds in his 11 minutes, two on the offensive glass. He played a stretch of 3:53 in the second half, left the game with the Pack trailing 61-46 with 10:27 to play and never returned to the floor.
It’s difficult to determine whether Steve Alford is performing late-game heroics or the opposition is simply falling asleep down the stretch after building big leads. But Alford did find a way to get his team to focus and play hard to the final buzzer. That’s not an easy thing to do when your team is on its way to its 13th loss in its last 19 games.
San Diego State built a 68-51 lead with eight minutes to go after outscoring the Pack 43-22 over a 16-minute stretch. The game clearly looked over. But Alford kept his team hungry and determined and the Pack nearly pulled off a dramatic comeback to close out a disappointing (7-7) home season. Over the final eight minutes of the game the Wolf Pack forced San Diego State into six turnovers, five fouls and just 3-of-9 shooting and nearly stole the game. The same type of thing happened at Boise State earlier in the week when the Pack fell behind by 13 with 11 minutes to go, cut the deficit to a point and ended up losing by six. Alford somehow squeezed 78 points out of his offense against the best defensive team in the conference on a night when three of his starters (Cambridge, Coleman, Blackshear) scored just 22 points on 6-of-24 shooting combined.
There is nothing wrong with a moral victory, especially at the end of a frustrating regular season heading into the conference tournament. San Diego State led the entire second half, enjoying a double-digit lead for much of the final 20 minutes. But the Pack had the ball in its hands at the end of the game with a chance to win. That alone should give this team a positive feeling heading into the Mountain West tournament on Wednesday against New Mexico (11 a.m.) in Las Vegas.
The Pack fought down to the wire last week against two teams (Boise State, San Diego State) that just might be in the Mountain West title game on Saturday. There were a lot of things that happened Saturday that should give the Pack hope heading into the New Mexico game on Wednesday and, if all goes well, a rematch against Boise State on Thursday (noon). The Pack’s 16 offensive rebounds on Saturday are its most since it had 16 at Bowling Green two years ago (Nov. 25, 2019) and its most in a Mountain West game since it had 16 at Utah State on March 2, 2019.
The Pack also went to the free throw line for a season-high 30 shots (making 23, its most successful free throws since it had 24 against Loyola Marymount on Dec. 18). Yes, the Wolf Pack goes into Las Vegas having lost 13 of its last 19 games. But there are now a lot of reasons to suggest the week could end up on a positive note.


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