Grades: Pack outplayed, outsmarted in Las Vegas

Wolf Pack freshman Darrion Williams, shown earlier this season, was named Mountain West freshman of the week Monday for his performances against New Mexico and UNLV.

Wolf Pack freshman Darrion Williams, shown earlier this season, was named Mountain West freshman of the week Monday for his performances against New Mexico and UNLV.

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Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 68-62 men’s basketball loss to the UNLV Rebels on Saturday in Las Vegas:



UNLV bottled up the Wolf Pack shooting guard just enough. Lucas finished with a team-high 15 points, but his teammates needed him to ignite the offense and that never happened. Lucas, the Pack’s leading scorer (17 points a game, fifth in the Mountain West), didn’t even take his first shot until he was in the game seven-plus minutes. He didn’t make his first shot until there was six minutes left in the first half. His 10 shot attempts are his fewest in a game since he had seven against Sam Houston State on Nov. 28. His three 3-point attempts are the fewest since he also had three against San Houston State. The Rebels were obviously aware that Lucas is third in the conference in 3-point shooting percentage (.386) and in threes per game (2.7) and weren’t about to allow him to shoot them out of Thomas & Mack Center. The Rebel defense, knowing Lucas isn’t much help to the Pack unless he is shooting the ball, also forced Lucas into a season-high six turnovers. It is the second most turnovers he’s had in his 117-game college career (seven on Dec. 5, 2021, against Arizona when he played for Oregon State). Lucas did score seven points in a span of 4:35 to cut the Rebels’ lead to 56-55 with 6:48 to play, suggesting he was about to get hot. But he took just one shot the rest of the game and didn’t score again.


Never let it be said that Kenan Blackshear leaves anything on the court when a game is finished but his blood, sweat and, on Saturday night, his tears. Blackshear played 2,183 of the game’s 2,400 seconds (36:23) and always seemed to be doing two or three things at once. The problem for the Pack was that it was a rollercoaster two or three things filled with peaks and valleys. The 6-foot-6 point guard finished with 14 points but it took 17 shots (he missed 11). He pulled down five rebounds and handed out six assists but also turned the ball over six times. He stole the ball twice but was also called for four fouls. The Pack has benefited greatly this year when Blackshear has dominated the ball with the game on the line. But against UNLV, it seemed, he tried to do it for an entire game. Blackshear was especially active in the first half when he was on the court for all but 91 seconds of the 20 minutes. He had eight points on 3-of-8 shooting, four assists and three rebounds to go along with four turnovers and three rebounds in the first half. In the second half he had two layups and two assists in a span of just under four minutes to give the Pack a 57-56 lead with 6:19 to play. Another Blackshear layup cut UNLV’s lead to 63-62 with 3:44 to play. But then he missed two questionable 3-pointers (he’s a 29-percent shooter from beyond the arc) as the Pack failed to score in the final 3:44.


That 6-11 guy dressed in a Wolf Pack uniform at Thomas & Mack on Saturday certainly wasn’t Will Baker, was it? You know, the Will Baker who had scored 64 points over the last three games combined on 26-of-41 shooting over 93 minutes? Where was that guy? The Baker that showed up Saturday was Bizarro World Baker, pulling down an occasional (five in each half) errant Rebel shot and, well, not much else. Baker finished with a season-high 10 rebounds which is all well and good. But the best offensive center in the Mountain West finished with just two points on 1-of-4 shooting. He hardly even tried to score, taking just two shots in each half. He took two shots in his first five minutes and then took just two more the rest of the game. Credit UNLV’s defense for Baker’s inactivity on offense and not, we assume, Baker’s passivity or some brain cramp by coach Steve Alford that instructed Baker not to shoot. But Alford did limit his center to just 19 minutes. Baker’s two points is his lowest output since he also had two at Loyola Marymount on Dec. 3. His four shots equal his fewest in his two-year Pack career (he did it twice last year). The Pack didn’t win 16 of its first 21 game heading into Saturday with Bizarro World Baker.


We saw Saturday night what happens when Tre Coleman is hampered by foul trouble. The entire team is also inhibited and does not function efficiently. Coleman was limited to just 21 minutes on Saturday because of four untimely fouls and finished with three points, four assists, a block and a steal. All of those stats came in the first half plus the first 30 seconds of the second half when Coleman had two fouls. He had a 3-point play for a 9-5 Pack lead early in the opening half and assisted on baskets by Blackshear, Lucas (twice) and Baker (his only bucket) and also had a steal, rebound and blocked a shot. Coleman then was whistled for his third foul less than two minutes into the second half with the Pack ahead, 38-35. The Pack was then outscored 33-24 the rest of the game with Coleman on the court for just six of the final 18-plus minutes.


The 6-6 freshman, understandably, came out with his hair and shorts on fire in the city where he played his final two years of high school basketball (Bishop Gorman). Williams took three threes (making one) and had two fouls and two rebounds in the first five minutes of the game as the Pack took a 9-6 lead. Williams then sat out nine straight minutes with those two fouls and the Pack was outscored 21-11 to fall behind 27-20. It wasn’t a coincidence. A well-rested Williams then drained a 3-pointer and had a pair of free throws in the first two-plus minutes of the second half as the Pack took a promising 40-36 lead. It seemed like Williams was well on his way to making UNLV regret once again it didn’t sign the former Gorman star. But then it was as if somebody tossed a bucket of water on Williams’ burning hair and shorts or maybe the excitement of playing at Thomas & Mack simply tired him out. The final 17:21 saw the freshman score just two points on 1-of-3 shooting, miss a free throw, pick up two more fouls and grab just one rebound despite staying on the court for 16 minutes of that final 17:21. Williams finished with 13 points in 27 minutes, but he also had just four rebounds, equaling his third-lowest output on the glass this year. His seven 3-point shots (three were good) are his most of the season. He also didn’t have a steal for just the third time this year or an offensive rebound for just the fourth time.



Davidson did little in his six-plus minutes in the first half. He missed his only shot (a layup), had two rebounds and committed two fouls. In nine-plus minutes in the second half, though, he had seven points on five free throws and had three rebounds. He made two trips to the line in a span of 37 seconds and was 4-of-4 from the line to give the Pack a 44-42 lead with 14:47 to play. His 3-point play sliced UNLV’s lead to just 62-60 with four minutes to go. Alford took him off the floor at that point and Davidson played just nine seconds of the final 4:06 as the Pack scored two more points.


Pettigrew was trusted with just 11 minutes despite the team’s foul troubles. Pettigrew did hit a jumper to cut UNLV’s lead to 15-13 midway through the first half, but the rest of his performance included a missed layup, a turnover and a foul. With Coleman playing just 21 minutes, the Pack could have used 18-plus minutes from Pettigrew but Alford obviously didn’t agree.


Foster played nine-plus minutes in each half and produced five rebounds, a steal and three fouls without scoring a point. His only shot, a missed jumper in the paint, came midway through the first half. The Pack was outscored 37-23 with Foster on the floor.


Tyler Powell returned to the rotation and rewarded the Pack with six points and a steal in 18 minutes. He had played just 26 minutes over his previous five games combined without scoring a point. The 6-5 Seton Hall transfer drained a pair of threes two minutes apart to cut UNLV’s lead to 30-23 with 4:51 to go in the first half. That equaled his total output of threes over his last seven games combined. He missed another 3-pointer and a jumper in the final 95 seconds of the first half and then didn’t take a shot in his six-plus minutes in the second half. Powell played just 23 seconds of the final 5:14 when the Pack could have used a well-placed 3-pointer or two.


Steve Alford simply couldn’t coach his way through this one. Alford never found a way to shake his team out of its doldrums and steal the victory as has happened more than a few times this year. Foul trouble (25 fouls) prompted Alford to play his bench 64 combined minutes, its second-most minutes in nine Mountain West games (behind the 71 at San Jose State) this year. In the 97-94 win over New Mexico last Monday, for example, the bench played just 47 combined minutes in a double-overtime game (250 minutes available). And the Pack won. Alford was playing poker on Saturday, asking for three new cards every hand and never getting what he wanted. Far too many things happened on Saturday that were simply out of character for the Pack. It was indeed Bizzaro Pack World in many ways. Darrion Williams had just four rebounds, none on the offensive glass, and didn’t have a steal. Will Baker took just four shots. Jarod Lucas took just 10 shots and just three threes. Daniel Foster and Tyler Powell each played 18 minutes while Tre Coleman played just 21 and Will Baker just 19. Lucas and Blackshear had six turnovers each. Was Alford out-coached by UNLV’s Kevin Kruger? Maybe a little. At times a lot. The Pack was clearly never in its comfort zone the entire game and that is the goal of every coach in every game.


The Wolf Pack has lost three of its last five games with all three losses coming on the road. The Pack still has not won a road game all year in front of a crowd of more than 3,000 fans (8,734 showed up at Thomas & Mack). The Pack committed a season-high 19 turnovers and then scored just five points in the game’s final six-plus minutes, the time of game when this team normally excels. So, yes, there was a lot that happened on Saturday night that should raise a Rebel red flag for the Pack. This was a UNLV team, after all, that had lost six of its previous eight games. The Rebels didn’t even play well, missing 16-of-25 threes, 12-of-29 free throws and 28-of-49 shots overall. They also turned the ball over 17 times themselves. The Pack just seemed mentally distracted most of the game, with some players doing too much, others not doing enough and nobody (even Alford) doing anything to fix it.


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