Pack grades: With big road win, Nevada continues to surprise

Nevada athletics
Wolf Pack head coach Steve Alford improved to 8-0 against New Mexico, one of his former teams.

Nevada athletics Wolf Pack head coach Steve Alford improved to 8-0 against New Mexico, one of his former teams.
Nevada Athletics

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Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 77-76 men’s basketball victory over the New Mexico Lobos on Tuesday at Albuquerque, N.M.:




The Pit was Jarod Lucas’ playground on Tuesday. The Wolf Pack shooting guard torched the Lobos all night long, scoring 28 points on 11-of-18 shooting. He was a torrid 6-of-9 on threes and, while he didn’t win the game with a last-second shot, he certainly made it possible for one of his teammates. Lucas, who played his first three years at Oregon State, matched his career-high in scoring (he had 28 against Air Force on Dec. 31) and with his six threes (he had six against USC last year). His 11 field goals are his new career high. He was brilliant in the first half, scoring 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting and 4-of-5 threes. At one point he missed four shots in a row midway through the second half, but he recovered nicely with a couple of clutch buckets, tying the game at 70-70 with his sixth three with 3:16 to play and giving the Pack a 72-70 lead 24 seconds later. Lucas, second in the Mountain West in scoring (17.8) and 3-pointers (69) and first in made free throws (115, even though he didn’t get to the line on Tuesday for the first time all year), is firmly in the discussion for conference Player of the Year.


Clutch Kenan did it again on a night when he was lucky to still be on the floor, let alone with the ball in his hands with the game on the line. The always fearless, confident and aggressive Pack point guard somehow put the first 39 minutes of the game out of his consciousness as the clock clicked down toward zeroes. It was a frustrating 39 minutes that saw him miss 6-of-9 shots and commit four fouls. But in the final minute (actually, 70 seconds) Blackshear scored five points, including the game-winning jumper just before the final buzzer to stun a rowdy Pit crowd of 15,004. Blackshear opened and closed the scoring in the game but between the first minute and last minute of the game he missed six-of-seven shots and had to sit out nearly half the game with foul trouble. He finished with just 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting in 23 minutes. But when you are Clutch Kenan, you don’t worry about how many points you score. You just worry about when you score them.


It was apparent almost from the start that the Lobos were determined to not allow the Wolf Pack’s 7-foot center to beat them on their own floor. Baker, who had 28 points in 40 minutes in the Pack’s double-overtime 97-94 victory over the Lobos two weeks ago in Reno, never found his rhythm on Tuesday. He finished with just 10 points, five rebounds, three fouls and two turnovers in 33 minutes. Baker, though, was trusted to be on the floor for 18-plus minutes in the second half and did remind the Lobos now and then of what he did to them two weeks before. Eight of his 10 points came in the second half, though he didn’t score (or take a shot) in the final eight minutes.  


The Wolf Pack basically won this game without Coleman, which is yet another indicator of how much this team has grown this year. Coleman played a season-low 14 minutes and fouled out with 3:40 to play. He took just one shot (his fewest this year) and scored just two points (on free throws) with two rebounds. He did have a steal and a block just 23 seconds apart midway through the second half but, for the most part, the officials and the Lobos took him out of the game. The Pack didn’t even play well with Coleman on the floor, getting outscored, 28-17. His trouble started when he picked up two fouls just eight seconds apart with 13-plus minutes left in the first half. He then spent the rest of the half on the bench. The Pack, though, outscored the Lobos 35-26 with Coleman on the bench for the final 13:28 of the opening half.


The Wolf Pack might be discovering its point guard of the future. He already might be the best point forward in the conference. Williams, a 6-6 freshman, had five more assists against the Lobos just four nights after handing out a career-best seven against Air Force. Williams scored eight points (all in the first half, mainly on two threes) and his five assists led to 15 more points on five Pack threes (four by Lucas, one by Blackshear). Williams, fortunately for the Pack, remained free of foul trouble (just one) all night long and stayed on the court for 34 much-needed minutes. He also had five rebounds, a block and a steal. His second 3-pointer tied the game at 24-24 with just under nine minutes to go in the first half. His final assist led to a Lucas 3-pointer, tying the game at 70-70 with 3:16 to go. Williams over the last two games combined has given the Pack 13 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds.



Davidson had two flash moments. He had a rare four-point play (a 3-pointer and a free throw) to give the Pack a 41-37 lead with 2:49 left in the first half. In the second half, he had a key offensive rebound and fed Blackshear for a layup to give the Pack a 74-72 lead with 70 seconds to go. He finished with seven rebounds and those four points (1-of-4 from the floor, all threes) in 21 valuable minutes. He played 13-plus minutes in the second half and was on the floor when Blackshear hit his game-winner.


The Wolf Pack doesn’t beat the Lobos on Tuesday without Daniel Foster. The Pack was actually outscored 44-43 while Foster was on the floor for 23 minutes, but Foster was the Pack stabilizer and had a direct hand in almost half (20-of-43) of those Pack points. The 6-6 junior had a career-high six assists (leading to 14 points) and equaled his season high with six points. He made both his shots from the floor and both his free throws. His offensive rebound and layup gave the Pack a 56-48 lead with just under 15 minutes to go. Foster was on the floor for a crucial 1:57 when the Pack turned a 70-67 deficit with 3:40 to play into a 72-72 tie with 1:43 left. The first half, when Foster played 12:30 and scored four points with four assists and a rebound, just might be the best and most important half of basketball Foster has played in his three-year Pack career.


Blackshear’s shot to end the game wasn’t the only Pack buzzer-beater on Tuesday. Tyler Powell had an offensive rebound and a layup to beat the halftime buzzer and give the Pack a 45-41 lead at the break. Take away either Blackshear’s or Powell’s timely buckets and the Pack loses. Powell, who played 15:22, scored all seven of his points on Tuesday in 10 first-half minutes. He had a 3-pointer to tie the game at 29-29 with seven minutes to go before halftime. He didn’t play the final 10 minutes of the game.


How did the Wolf Pack (now 19-6, 9-3) win at New Mexico with just one player scoring more than 12 points and with point guard Kenan Blackshear on the floor for just 23 minutes and defensive stopper Tre Coleman playing just 14 minutes? If you didn’t think this was a team of destiny before Tuesday night, you might want to start believing now. Coach Steve Alford, now just a win away from his first 20-win season at Nevada, played just eight players despite Blackshear’s and Coleman’s foul trouble. He somehow got 39 highly productive minutes combined out of Tyler Powell and Daniel Foster and simply stole a victory on Tuesday. Alford, it seems, simply refuses to lose at The Pit, no matter what bench he sits on. He is now 2-0 as the Pack coach and 92-11 as the Lobos’ coach. Somehow, some way, Alford has instilled the confidence and courage necessary in this team to rise up and steal victories down the stretch with the game on the line.


Nobody can say anymore that this Wolf Pack team can’t win games on the road in front of huge, hostile crowds. It doesn’t get any more huge (15,004) or hostile than it was Tuesday night. If you can beat New Mexico in Albuquerque at The Pit, well, you can beat any Mountain West team in any gym in the conference. This inexplicable team continues to amaze, but Tuesday night it might have outdone itself. How did it keep Lobos’ scorers Jamal Mashburn and Jaelen House to under 40 points (39) on 11-of-30 shooting (37 percent) overall and 2-of-11 on threes with the Pack’s top defensive players (Coleman and Blackshear) on the bench for more than half the game (43 of a possible 80 minutes)? How did Lucas break free for 28 points on 11-of-18 shooting when nobody else in silver and blue brought their shooting shorts and shoes to Albuquerque? How did Foster find a way to score six points and Powell score seven when they were averaging less than four points a game combined heading into Tuesday? This team, we’ve said all season long, finds a new way to win every game. This was No. 19.


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