Steve Alford told his Nevada Wolf Pack at halftime Saturday night to stand up and fight back.
“They (Utah State) outworked us in the first half and we were the softer basketball team in the first half,” the Wolf Pack coach said. “So we had a spirited halftime. We got after them because we just thought we were soft. And, wow, did they respond.”
The Wolf Pack, No. 3 in this week’s Nevada Appeal Mountain West rankings, turned a 42-37 halftime deficit against Utah State into an 85-70 victory at Lawlor Events Center.
“This (Utah State) is a tremendous basketball team we just beat,” said Alford, whose Wolf Pack is now 15-4 overall and 5-1 in the Mountain West. “They are old, experienced and well-coached and I couldn’t be more proud of our guys.”
The Wolf Pack had three players score in double figures against the Aggies (Kenan Blackshear with 28 points, Will Baker with 24 and Jarod Lucas with 21).
The victory, Nevada’s seventh in its last eight games, came just three days after a 74-65 loss at San Diego State.
“This team (Nevada) hasn’t played in this type of environment this year,” Wolf Pack assistant coach Kory Barnett said after the game. “We weren’t ready for it. They punched us in the mouth.”
The Wolf Pack, which punched Utah State in the mouth with a late 19-0 run, returned home after the loss to San Diego State to face Utah State.
“It’s not easy when you lose to just come back and win again,” said Alford, whose Wolf Pack is 9-0 at home this year. “We have enough inexperience when sometimes you come back home and you just think you can win again. It doesn’t work that way.”
The Wolf Pack this week will head back out on the road to face Boise State on Tuesday night. Alford, whose Wolf Pack beat Boise State 74-72 in Reno on Dec. 28, is confident. “They (Nevada) have handled adversity all year,” Alford said. “They’ve just been relentless.”
No. 1 New Mexico (16-2, 3-2) didn’t have any problems at San Diego State on Saturday, beating the No. 2 Aztecs, 76-67, in front of a crowd of 12,414. Jaelen House had 29 points, four steals, three 3-pointers and six rebounds to lead the Lobos. Jamal Mashburn added 22 for the Lobos, which ended San Diego State’s 16-game home winning streak.
“Experience is so important,” New Mexico coach Richard Pitino said. “Last year (a 72-47 San Diego State win over New Mexico on Jan. 31, 2022) they threw us around in here. The (Lobo players) that were here last year, they took some pride. I told them we needed to match their toughness because San Diego State always brings that. We wanted to come in here and feel like we belong. So we were ready to go. We were juiced up for this game.”
San Diego State (13-4, 4-1) missed 18-of-24 3-pointers and 10-of-21 free throws in the loss.
“Frustration is a big part of everything we do in sports,” Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher said. “We’re frustrated we didn’t get a win. But we can’t let that frustration linger.
“The hardest thing about the game is that it was a home loss and now we have to go on the road for two (at Colorado State on Wednesday and Air Force on Saturday). We’ll see how tough we are mentally.”
Dutcher said the Aztecs’ struggles actually started in the second half of its 74-65 win over Nevada last Tuesday. “The first half was probably as good as we’ve played all year,” Dutcher said. “And then in the second half we let off the pressure a little bit defensively.”
No. 4 Boise State (14-4, 4-1), whipped UNLV, 84-66, and Wyoming, 85-68, last week. Boise State has now won four games in a row after its 74-72 loss at Nevada late last month. Boise State was 26-of-59 (44 percent) on threes in the wins over UNLV and Wyoming combined.
“We’re getting each other good shots,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said.
No. 5 Utah State (14-4, 3-2) rolled over Wyoming, 83-63, last Tuesday at home before falling at Nevada. Taylor Funk had 22 points on four threes against Wyoming. Utah State gets a pair of home games this week, against UNLV on Tuesday and Colorado State on Saturday.
No. 6 San Jose State (12-6, 3-2) got past No. 10 Fresno State, 74-64, last Tuesday at home. Alvaro Cardenas had 20 points, six threes and nine assists for the Spartans. Anthony Holland scored half (18) of the Fresno State starters’ output of 36 points.
No. 7 UNLV (12-5, 1-4) lost a pair of home games last week, 84-66 to Boise State and 82-81 in overtime to Colorado State.
Elijah Harkless, who played two seasons at both Cal State Northridge and Oklahoma before coming to UNLV this year, had 33 for the Rebels against Colorado State and 12 against Boise State. UNLV started the season 10-0 but has lost five of its last seven games.
“We’re not in a spot we want to be and we’re not in a spot where we should be,” said UNLV senior Justin Webster, who had 13 points against Boise State and 15 against Colorado State. “But I know we’re going to get ourselves out of it.”
No. 8 Air Force beat Fresno State, 51-48, and Colorado State, 85-74 in overtime, both on the road last week.
Marcel McCreary, a 6-4 freshman, had 26 points against Colorado State, which outscored the Rams, 20-9 in overtime. Jake Heidbreder had 17 points for Air Force despite missing 6-of-7 threes. Ethan Taylor led Air Force with 15 points on five threes against Air Force and McCreary added 13. The Falcons outscored the Bulldogs 31-22 in the second half.
No. 9 Colorado State (10-9, 2-4) rebounded from its loss to Air Force on Tuesday by beating UNLV 82-81 in overtime on Saturday. Isaiah Stevens had 3-pointers with 21 and four seconds left in overtime to steal the victory on the road. Stevens finished with 33 points, eight rebounds, nine assists, two steals and a block in 42 minutes.
No. 10 Fresno State lost to San Jose State (74-64) and Air Force (51-48) last week to fall to 6-11, 2-4. Eduardo Andre, who is from Angola, had 15 points against San Jose State and 14 points and 15 rebounds against Air Force. The 6-11 Andre, who played the last two seasons at Nebraska, has scored 46 points over his last four games combined after scoring 45 over his first 11 games.
No. 11 Wyoming, which has battled injuries all season, lost at Utah State (83-63) and to Boise State (85-68) at home last week. The Cowboys are now 5-12 overall and winless (0-5) in the Mountain West. Hunter Maldonado had 20 against Utah State and 12 against Boise State. The Cowboys, losers of seven in a row, missed 10-of-21 free throws against Boise State.
The Nevada Appeal’s Mountain West men’s basketball rankings for the week of Jan. 16:
1. NEW MEXICO (16-2, 3-2): Last week: New Mexico 76, San Diego State 67 (Jan. 15). This week: San Jose State at New Mexico (Tuesday), Boise State at New Mexico (Friday).
2. SAN DIEGO STATE (13-4, 4-1): Last week: San Diego State 74, Nevada 65 (Jan. 10); New Mexico 76, San Diego State 67 (Jan. 15). This week: San Diego State at Colorado State (Wednesday), San Diego State at Air Force (Saturday).
3. NEVADA (15-4, 5-1): Last week: San Diego State 74, Nevada 65 (Jan. 10); Nevada 85, Utah State 70 (Jan. 13). This week: Nevada at Boise State (Tuesday), New Mexico at Nevada (Jan. 23).
4. BOISE STATE (14-4, 4-1): Last week: Boise State 84, UNLV 66 (Jan. 11), Boise State 85, Wyoming 68 (Jan. 15). This week: Nevada at Boise State (Tuesday), Boise State at New Mexico (Friday).
5. UTAH STATE (14-4, 3-2): Last week: Utah State 83, Wyoming 63 (Jan. 10); Nevada 85, Utah State 70 (Jan. 15). This week: UNLV at Utah State (Tuesday), San Jose State at Utah State (Saturday).
6. SAN JOSE STATE (12-6, 3-2): Last week: San Jose State 74, Fresno State 64 (Jan. 10). This week: San Jose State at New Mexico (Tuesday), San Jose State at Utah State (Saturday).
7. UNLV (12-5, 1-4): Last week: Boise State 84, UNLV 66 (Jan. 11), Colorado State 82, UNLV 81, OT (Jan. 15). This week: UNLV at Utah State (Tuesday), UNLV at Fresno State (Saturday).
8. AIR FORCE (11-7, 2-3): Last week: Air Force 85, Colorado State 75, OT (Jan. 10); Air Force 51, Fresno State 48 (Jan. 15). This week: Wyoming at Air Force (Tuesday), San Diego State at Air Force (Saturday).
9. COLORADO STATE (10-9, 2-4): Last week: Air Force 85, Colorado State 75, OT (Jan. 10); Colorado State 82, UNLV 81, OT (Jan. 15). This week: San Diego State at Colorado State (Wednesday); Colorado State at Wyoming (Saturday).
10. FRESNO STATE (6-11, 2-4): Last week: San Jose State 74, Fresno State 64 (Jan. 10), Air Force 51, Fresno State 48 (Jan. 15). This week: UNLV at Fresno State (Saturday).
11. WYOMING (5-12, 0-5): Last week: Utah State 83, Wyoming 63 (Jan. 10); Boise State 85, Wyoming 68 (Jan. 15). This week: Wyoming at Air Force (Tuesday), Colorado State at Wyoming (Saturday).