A look at Nevada’s teams
Appeal Sports Editor
When I talked to Nevada basketball coach Mark Fox prior to the Pack’s game at North Carolina, he admitted that he anticipated his inexperienced team would have its moments.
One thing is certain, Fox knows his team pretty well, and I doubt that even he anticipated the meltdown his young team experienced in the final three minutes of the first half when the unranked Pack turned a close game into a rout.
For the first 16-plus minutes, the Pack showed it could play with the best team in the country. The other 23-plus minutes? All I can say is ouch.
Nevada trailed 36-33 with 3:49 left, but North Carolina ended the half with a 13-2 run, including an 8-0 surge in the final minute led by Ty Lawson. That was the beginning of the end for the Pack, which broke under the pressure of the Tar Heels’ defense.
Not all of the mistakes were the result of North Carolina’s pressure. Part of it was poor decision making on the part of the Pack. It’s OK to be aggressive. It’s OK to give a player the green light to shoot. However, the player has to realize the right time to take a shot; to take the ball to the hole.
The decision making wasn’t the greatest, and I think Fox knew there would be times that would happen. Fox told me that his team had to have productive possessions, and that certainly wasn’t the case late in the first half and the first few minutes of the second half when the Tar Heels distanced themselves from the Pack.
It’s not easy to play at a place like the Dean Smith Center. At times, the Pack look unfazed by the partisan crowd. At other times, they had the deer in the headlights look.
Fox always talks how you learn from setbacks. This game will go a long way in showing Nevada what it has to work on to stay at the top of the WAC and to make the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight year.
Besides decision making on offense, Nevada continues to be a team that struggles with rebounding, and in the past four years rebounding was one of Nevada’s strength. Nevada can’t just rely on JaVale McGee and Demarshay Johnson for rebounds. Guys like Brandon Fields and Matt LaGrone have to step up more than they have to this point.
• And, while we’re on the subject of Nevada athletics, let’s talk about the recently concluded football season.
Nevada was 6-6 in the regular season and lost 23-0 to New Mexico in the New Mexico Bowl.
If you read a Northern Nevada newspaper web page, there isn’t a day that goes by that somebody in the community wants Chris Ault fired.
What was the program before Ault got there? I’ll tell you in one word – horrible. Is he perfect? Nope. Can he still coach? Yep.
People, look at Nevada’s roster. This was a young team. The seniors on the roster were in the minority in terms of playing key roles. This was a team dominated by juniors, sophomores and redshirt freshmen.
The biggest knock on this team, and the players know it, was its inability to finish games. The Pack lost fourth-quarter leads at Northwestern, at Boise State, to Hawaii and at San Jose State. Win two of those games, and all of a sudden 6-6 becomes 8-4 and everybody is ready to anoint Ault.
People, keep it real. Certainly 6-6 is nothing to be proud. This team wasn’t as bad as the record would indicate.
This is a team that suffered some key injuries on defense to Erics Clark, Jon Amaya and Josh Mauga. Nevada ran out of defensive linemen and went to a 4-3 the bulk of the year.
No doubt Ault will focus a lot of his attention on defensive help during the recruiting season. Nevada needs some defensive ends that can rush the passer and linebackers who can run and play in space. Outside linebacker and nose tackle are two immediate needs for the Pack.
Offensively, Nevada loses little. The biggest losses are wide receiver Kyle Sammons, tight end Adam Bishop and offensive lineman Charles Manu.
Nevada will return eight starters on offense, including 80 percent of its interior line which paved the way for Nevada to lead the WAC in rushing this past season.
The skill positions will be a plus, as Colin Kaepernick returns along with Nick Graziano, assuming he recovers from a foot injury which required surgery last fall. Running back Luke Lippincott is back along with his top back-ups, Vai Taua, Courtney Randall and Brandon Fragger. Marko Mitchell and Mike McCoy are back at wide receiver along with Chris Wellington, Andy McIntosh, Art King Jr., and Dwayne Sanders.
• Lost in the shuffle of Nevada’s recent five-game winning streak and the Pack’s trip to the New Mexico Bowl, has been the play of the Nevada’s women’s basketball team.
The Pack was 7-3 entering last night’s game against UNLV. The team has been playing great basketball and doing it in front of hardly anybody. That is disappointing to say the least,
This is a team that plays with a lot of energy and heart. It isn’t artistic. The team is relentless. it keeps coming at opponents with a fury that a lot of men’s teams wish they had.
I met up with Kurt Esser, the former assistant athletic director for marketing at Nevada. He left in the summer to take a similar job with the University of New Mexico.
Esser told me that the university sold 6,000 season tickets for the Lady Lobos. That might be more than Nevada will draw at home the entire season. That’s impressive. I’m certainly not a homer, but this team doesn’t get the support it deserves. The Pack is one of three teams with at least seven wins in nonconference play thus far, and the team is pushing hard toward a second consecutive post-season berth.
Get out there people. Get out and support a program which has improved by leaps and bounds the past three years.
Have a Happy New Year.