Grading the Pack: Nevada picks up stress-free road win

Head coach Steve Alford and the Wolf Pack finished 10-3 in the non-conference portion of their schedule.

Head coach Steve Alford and the Wolf Pack finished 10-3 in the non-conference portion of their schedule.

Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 75-69 men’s basketball victory over the Air Force Falcons on Saturday at Colorado Springs, Colo...


The Wolf Pack got the best of Jarod Lucas on Saturday and it paid off in a methodical, stress-free victory on the road. Lucas scored 14 points in each half on his way to a career-high 28 points. Lucas had 27 for Oregon State on Jan. 13, 2022, against USC. His best for Nevada this year was 22 against Tulane on Nov. 21. The Air Force game was his first with 20 or more points since he had 20 against Kansas State on Nov. 22. The 6-3 shooting guard was 11-of-12 from the line and 3-of-5 on threes on New Year’s Eve. He was also 4-of-5 inside the 3-point arc after going 0-for-7 on twos against Boise State three days earlier. He scored his first six points in Saturday in a span of just 59 seconds on three free throws and a 3-pointer as the Pack took a 12-3 lead four-plus minutes into the game. He scored his final nine points in the game’s final 6:25, seven on free throws.

Blackshear went long stretches without much productivity but did finish with 14 points in 35 minutes, thanks to six free throws in the game’s final two minutes. Blackshear scored just two points in the first 16:45 of the first half and didn’t score at all in the first 18:07 of the second half. Three of his four assists came in the first five-plus minutes of the game. Blackshear was efficient and productive in those first five-plus minutes with two points, three assists, a steal and a rebound. Over the first 18 minutes of the second half, though, he was 0-for-3 from the floor with one assist, two turnovers and no points. Blackshear finished with four turnovers (three in the second half) after committing four turnovers in his last three games combined. Blackshear, though, has taken it upon himself to serve as the Pack’s closer this year and he did that once again at Air Force when needed. He had a 3-pointer and a three-point play in the final 3:15 of the first half as the Pack led 36-25 at the break and he went 6-of-6 from the line in the final 1:53 of the game as the Pack held off the Falcons.

The Wolf Pack’s 7-foot center set the tone in the first three minutes of the game with a dunk and a layup, two offensive rebounds and a steal as the Pack took a 6-0 lead. Air Force never found a way to contain Baker in the paint. The Austin, Texas native scored 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting in just 26 minutes with eight rebounds. Baker’s four offensive rebounds were a season high. Almost all of Baker’s 16 points came on layups (four), dunks (2) and free throws (two). If Baker wouldn’t have struggled with his shot (he was 1-of-6 on jumpers, all in the paint) he would have flirted with 25 points. Baker has scored 69 points on 26-of-39 shooting (67 per cent) over his last four games with 23 rebounds and has become one of the top offensive centers in the Mountain West.

Coleman missed 4-of-5 shots and scored just three points in 34 minutes. The 6-7 guard (and his coaches, apparently), though, isn’t all that concerned with his offense. Coleman had four rebounds, two steals, two assists and a block. Three of his rebounds led directly to Pack buckets. His block on a layup attempt by Camden Vander Zwaag preserved a 25-15 Pack lead with eight minutes to go in the first half. Both of his assists (one in each half) led to 3-pointers by Jarod Lucas. All of Coleman’s scoring came on a 3-pointer for a 20-8 lead eight minutes into the game.

Williams was a force in the first 10 minutes of the second half, scoring six points and handing out a pair of assists to keep the Pack in the lead. All six of his points for the game came in a stretch of four minutes on a couple of jumpers in the paint and a layup. He also fed Will Baker inside for a layup and a short jumper in the paint in the second half as the Pack took a 55-43 lead with 10:07 to play. Williams struggled in the first half, playing just 10 minutes without scoring (0-for-3 from the floor) and pulling down just one rebound. He picked up his second foul and was sent to the bench with 7:29 to go in the first half. That all changed in the second half as Williams rediscovered his offense in the first 10 minutes. He even stayed on the floor for the final 11:27 despite not scoring (or taking a shot), mainly because he didn’t pick up his fourth foul until there was just 30 seconds to play. Williams finished with six points, six rebounds and three assists in 28 minutes. In the first eight games of the year he was 11-of-13 combined from the line. He didn’t get to the line on Saturday and is now 2-of-3 from the line over his last seven games.

Davidson played just 14 minutes but, as usual, found a way to contribute to the victory. He converted a 3-point play for a 15-3 lead five-plus minutes into the game. In the second half he blocked a jumper in the paint by Rytis Petraitis with 12:41 to go and drained a 3-pointer for a 60-47 lead with 8:40 left. The 6-8 Davidson had three rebounds to go along with six points.

Pettigrew played 13 minutes, missed all three of his shots and scored just two points. His two points came on two free throws just 20 seconds after he entered the game for the first time with 14:17 to play in the first half. The 6-3 freshman played 9:45 in the first half (the final 6:19) but was on the court for just 3:13 in the second half (picking up a foul).

Powell played just eight minutes (4:35 in the first half and 3:21 in the second half) and didn’t score, missing his lone shot (a 3-pointer). The 6-5 Seton Hall transfer did grab two boards (both in the first half) and he fed Baker for a layup in the second half. He committed a turnover with 9:22 to play in the second half, was removed from the game three seconds later and never got off the bench the rest of the game. The Pack was outscored 19-9 when Powell was on the floor.

Foster played just seven minutes and picked up four fouls. The 6-6 guard didn’t take a shot or score but did have two rebounds and a turnover. He picked up two fouls in a span of 11 seconds in the first half and two more in the second half just 43 seconds apart.

This one smelled like a trap game all along for the Pack. First Mountain West game of the year on the road after an emotional win at home over Boise State just three days earlier. The Pack stepped into an almost empty Clune Arena (just 1,704 fans) with no atmosphere for a weird and awkward early afternoon start on New Year’s Eve. But Alford, who can smell a trap game a mile away, didn’t allow his overachieving Wolf Pack to lose focus. He kept it simple with Lucas shooting jumpers and Baker going to the rim and the Pack turned in one of its most efficient, consistent and dominating performances of the year. That’s how you win on the road. You seize the scoreboard and the game from the start and never let go. After a disappointing 2021-22 season Alford has seized control of this program. The 12-3 start is Alford’s best at Nevada after 15 games (he’s now 60-43 in three-plus seasons). And he’s doing it with a roster that didn’t know each other just a few months ago.

Yes, it was just Air Force with only slightly more fans in the stands than you will find for a mid-day practice at Lawlor Events Center. But the Pack controlled the entire game and led by four or more points for the final 38 minutes. That’s not easy to do, even during a mid-day practice at Lawlor. The Pack won this game at the free throw line (a 23-12 advantage) and that won’t happen much on the road in the Mountain West the rest of the year. But it does tend to happen at Air Force. The Pack bench also scored just eight points. So, yes, this is not a reliable blueprint for victory that can be used in every road game. The Pack, after all, will clearly play more talented, physical and aggressive teams in more hostile environments in the coming months. Air Force, after all, never punched the Pack in the mouth. The best they could do was tap the Pack on its shoulder and remind them they were still around. That’s not enough to beat this Pack team, which is built on teamwork, unselfishness and grit.


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