Hot-shooting Bulldogs bite Pack
Special to the Nevada Appeal
RENO ” The first time the Nevada Wolf Pack and Louisiana Tech Bulldogs met this season it was the Bulldogs who walked off the floor stunned, shocked and shaking their heads.
Fast-forward almost a month to Thursday night at Lawlor Events Center. This time it was the Wolf Pack who was left wondering what had just happened.
“I can’t describe it,” said a quiet freshman Luke Babbitt after the 78-75 loss that left the crowd of 6,598 even quieter.
Babbitt, who beat the Bulldogs on a 3-pointer at the buzzer, 67-64, on Jan. 10 in Ruston, La., then went on to describe the loss perfectly. “This is just real disappointing,” he said. “It’s unacceptable. This shouldn’t happen at home.”
What happened, exactly?
“Our defense was pathetic,” Wolf Pack coach Mark Fox said. “It is unacceptable for us to play that way. That was the story of the game.”
What happened to the defense, exactly?
“Make a list and I’ll add to it,” Fox said. “We gave guys post position, we didn’t challenge shots. You name it, we did it.”
Louisiana Tech, now 9-14 overall and 3-7 in the Western Athletic Conference, shot 60 percent (30-for-50) for the game. The Bulldogs torched the Pack defense at a 66.7 percent (16-of-24) shooting clip in the second half while wiping out a 37-31 Wolf Pack halftime lead.
“We wanted to be more aggressive and get to the rim and get to the free throw line,” Bulldogs coach Kerry Rupp said.
The Wolf Pack, now 13-9 overall and 6-3 in the WAC, led by as much as 13 (32-19) in the first half and nine (40-31) in the second half.
“The turning point was the start of the second half,” Fox said. “We just could not get a stop.”
Louisiana Tech went on a 9-0 run early in the second half to tie the game at 40-40.
James Loe hit a 3-pointer to key the run and Kyle Gibson showed a sign of things to come by driving the lane for a layup.
“We had a tough time guarding Gibson,” Fox admitted.
Gibson, who led five Bulldogs in double-figure scoring with 16 points, simply shredded the Wolf Pack defense in the final two minutes. The 6-foot-5 junior drove the lane for another layup to cut the Wolf Pack’s lead to 68-67 with 2:15 to play. His two free throws with 1:45 to go sliced the Pack’s lead again to one, 70-69. Gibson followed that with a spinning lay-up and a 71-70 Bulldogs’ lead with 1:15 to play.
“I couldn’t find a way to get us to guard,” Fox said. “We used all of our defenses and all of our players but I couldn’t find an answer. I take full responsibility for this.”
Gibson, who had just two points at halftime on just two shots, then authored the shot of the game, draining a 3-pointer for a 74-72 Bulldogs’ lead with 40 seconds to play.
“We got off to a slow start and Nevada got out of the gate really fast and I thought they out-competed us,” Rupp said. “I just wanted us to come out and compete and take it possession by possession.”
It seemed like each one of the Bulldogs’ possessions ended with a layup down the stretch.
“We just got outplayed,” said Wolf Pack guard Brandon Fields, who misfired on 13 of his 15 shots, including one from right under the basket in traffic with 14 seconds to go and the Pack trailing 74-72.
“I want to apologize to the fans for the way we played.”
The Wolf Pack actually played fairly well on offense, making 48 percent of their shots from the field overall and 44 percent (7-of-16) from 3-point range. The Pack also turned the ball over just six times, equaling their most efficient effort of the season (Nov. 15 against Montana State in the season opener).
Babbitt converted 9-of-11 shots and scored 23 points and point guard Armon Johnson had one of his better offensive games of the season with a game-high 27.
It was Johnson who was instrumental in building the double-digit lead in the first half.
The sophomore hit a runner off the glass for a 72-71 Wolf Pack lead with a minute to play and later drained a 3-pointer with 8.6 seconds to go to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 76-75. The Pack had one final chance to tie the game at the end of regulation but Johnson’s pass was behind Babbitt at the top of the circle and the freshman from Galena High couldn’t get off a shot.
Despite all of the positives on the offensive side of the ball ” the Pack had 14 assists on their first 14 baskets ” nobody in silver and blue was in the mood to smile after the game.
“I don’t think we played as well as we’re capable of on offense,” Johnson said.
“The offensive numbers were pretty,” Fox said. “But the end result wasn’t pretty.”
The loss was the Wolf Pack’s first at home since a 78-73 loss to Idaho to open the WAC season. The Pack, who will host New Mexico State at Lawlor on Saturday night (5:05 p.m.), has now lost five games at home in a season for the first time since 2000-01.
“We’re not going to just shake this one off,” Fox said. “We’re going to force ourselves to look at this again (today) and we’re going to learn from this.”