Pack frustrated by UNLV |

Pack frustrated by UNLV

Joe Santoro
For the Appeal

RENO — The Nevada Wolf Pack suffered through yet another one of its frustrating and seemingly never-ending growing pains Tuesday night.

“It hurts a lot,” junior center A.J. West said after a 67-62 loss to the UNLV Rebels in front of an energetic crowd of 7,578 at Lawlor Events Center. “But we just have to put this behind us.”

The Wolf Pack has now lost five games in a row to fall to 6-13 overall and 2-5 in the Mountain West. UNLV, which had lost six of its last eight games before Tuesday, improved to 12-9, 3-5.

The Wolf Pack, which hasn’t tasted victory since it beat UNLV in Las Vegas (64-62) on Jan. 7, was a mere three minutes away from sweeping its two-game conference series with the Rebels for the second consecutive season. The Pack took a 56-55 lead on two free throws by Marqueze Coleman with just 3:01 to play.

The Rebels, which led by as many as 12 in the first half, then dominated the final three minutes.

“We have to be more efficient in clutch moments,” Wolf Pack junior Tyron Criswell said.

The Wolf Pack missed nine consecutive shots after Eric Cooper’s lay-up gave them a 52-51 lead with 5:19 to play. The next successful Wolf Pack field goal didn’t take place until Criswell drained a consolation 3-pointer with three seconds remaining.

“We had some bad possessions down the stretch,” Carter said.

The Rebels, it seemed, saved their best for down the stretch.

Goodluck Okonoboh broke free for a lay-up to give the Rebels a 57-56 lead with 2:46 to go. Christian Wood then hit the biggest shot of the game, a 3-pointer from the left side for a 60-56 Rebel lead with 1:41 to go.

The Pack’s frustrations on offense then boiled to the surface as Cooper missed a 3-pointer and West missed two jumpers in the lane, thanks to a pair of game-changing blocks by Okonoboh, in a span of just seven seconds.

The Rebels then put the game away at the free throw line. A Wood free throw gave UNLV a 61-56 lead with 57 seconds to go and two free throws by Jelan Kendrick made it 63-56 with 35 seconds left, completing an 8-0 UNLV run.

“It’s all about consistency,” Carter said.

“We just have to stay positive and keep fighting.”

The Wolf Pack, Carter said, felt fortunate to be down just 33-26 at halftime. The Rebels dominated the early going, taking a 27-15 lead with five minutes to go in the half.

Jelan Kendrick drilled a 3-pointer for a 21-11 Rebel lead with 10:35 to go in the first half. Okonoboh, who had 13 points off the bench, then connected on a pair of short jumpers in the lane for a 25-13 Rebel lead with 6:28 to go in the half.

UNLV, which won for the first time in six games on an opponent’s home floor this season, shot 50 percent (14-of-28) from the floor in the opening half and kept the Pack offense under control. The Pack, at one point in the first half, missed seven consecutive shots and two free throws in a span of just more than two minutes.

The Wolf Pack, though, began to show signs of life with about four minutes to go in the first half. Criswell scored on a lay-up off an assist from Cooper to cut UNLV’s lead to 27-17 and Michael Perez, coming off the bench for the first time in his 51-game Pack career, hit a 3-pointer to pull the Pack to within 27-20 with 2:40 to go in the half.

It even seemed like the Pack’s luck was changing when Cooper banked in a 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer.

“We were very fortunate to only be down seven,” Carter said. “We weren’t clicking offensively.”

Cooper led the Pack with 16 points while West and Criswell each scored 15. West, who also had 15 rebounds, turned in his eighth double-double this year and the 10th of his career. It was also just the second time this season the Pack had three players with 15 or more points. The other time was Jan. 3 when Coleman scored 18, D.J. Fenner had 17 and West had 16 in an 80-62 win over Air Force.

Carter likes what he’s seeing from his new starting lineup over the past two games that features Criswell and Cooper instead of Perez and Fenner. Fenner, who has led the Pack in scoring in seven games this year, didn’t even get in the game against UNLV. Perez played well off the bench, scoring seven points.

“I think we are playing at a different tempo and have a different energy,” Carter said.

The Wolf Pack will play at Wyoming on Saturday (3 p.m.).

“We battled,” said Cooper of the Pack’s first loss to UNLV since March 2, 2013 (80-63 at Lawlor). “We played hard enough to win.”

“We just have to put this behind us,” Criswell said. “All we are worrying about is our future.”

The Pack, which trails in its series to UNLV 57-22, still feels good about its future, despite 13 losses in its last 17 games.

“We are close to being an unbeatable team,” Criswell said.