Joe Santoro: Pack lacked emotion: That’s all I got to say about that
February 22, 2018
The Nevada Wolf Pack treated Wednesday night's game against woeful San Jose State at Lawlor Events Center like it would've rather stayed home and watched Olympic curling. No defense. No emotion. No passion. Cody and Caleb Martin, who normally play as if their shorts are on fire, seemed too bored to even shoot the ball. The Pack just sauntered up the court, careful not to trip over an unsuspecting San Jose State player, flipped a few passes around the perimeter to satisfy their coach and simply fired up a ton of 3-pointers. A school-record 37 3-point attempts, mind you. It was like watching a Doctors vs. Lawyers charity game where four minutes into the game everyone is too winded to even consider taking more than a step or two toward the basket. You'd see more offensive variety from a bunch of kids squirting water in a clown's mouth on the Circus Circus runway trying to win a stuffed animal. It all added up to an 80-67 Wolf Pack victory. So it's nothing to worry about. But the Wolf Pack is fortunate it was playing one of the worst teams in the nation on Wednesday.
The Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball team seems to make subtle changes in its style of play from game to game. One game Cody Martin takes 18 shots and scores 30 points. The next game he takes three shots and scores two points. Hallice Cooke tossed up 10 3-point attempts on Wednesday. Yes, Hallice Cooke. Kendall Stephens treated the game as if it was his own personal NBA 3-point shooting contest, taking 16 3-pointers. It's like a different Wolf Pack team every game since point guard Lindsey Drew went down with a season-ending Achilles injury last week. But that's what makes this team so dangerous. One game the Martin twins will beat you. The next game its Hallice Cooke and Kendall Stephens. Next week it will be Jordan Caroline. The Pack is playing Forest Gump box-of-chocolates ball now. You never know what you're going to get.
Pack coach Eric Musselman did say something after the game that should concern all Wolf Pack fans. "Obviously Caleb's foot is really bothering him," Musselman said. Caleb Martin, who injured his left foot Feb. 3 at Colorado State and missed just one game, played 22 minutes and scored eight points with three rebounds against San Jose State. He missed six of his nine shots overall and five of his six 3-pointers. The Wolf Pack will need a completely healthy Caleb Martin to have any success in the NCAA tournament. They might need him to play 35-40 minutes a game to win the Mountain West tournament in two weeks. In a perfect Pack world, Martin shouldn't have played on Wednesday. But that's where this Pack team is right now after Drew's injury. Musselman felt he had to play Caleb Martin 22 minutes on a bad foot in order to beat San Jose State.
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The official attendance on Wednesday at Lawlor Events Center was 8,096 which, all things considered, isn't too shabby considering it was a Wednesday night and San Jose State was in town. The Spartans, after all, attract just 1,640 of their own fans to each of their home games in a region (the Bay Area) that has a population of about 7 million people. That 8,096, though, is just an accounting figure. The actual body count in the seats was probably more like 6,500-7,000. Musselman, who normally goes out of his way to praise Pack fans, was obviously disappointed in the crowd. "We're ranked, you know," said Musselman, who chose his words carefully. "We're a team that's 13-2 (in Mountain West play). We're 24-5 (overall). I think our guys were a little bit hopeful of a better crowd than what we saw tonight. Like I said, we're 20th in the country."
Wolf Pack fans will get one last chance to see this team in action in Northern Nevada on Sunday when Colorado State comes to Lawlor. Colorado State is a team without a head coach (head coach Larry Eustachy was fired earlier this month) and the Rams are in a freefall so it promises to be another Pack party. The Wolf Pack will also win the Mountain West regular season title with a victory on Sunday and will cut down the nets. Musselman, as has become tradition, will likely take off his shirt and run around the court. "We hope to have a sell out," Musselman said.
You can make the argument Kendall Stephens is the best 3-point shooter in Wolf Pack history. The Pack senior, who spent his first three seasons at Purdue, will likely set the school record for threes in a season. Stephens has 104 3-pointers and is just 12 away from breaking Marcus Marshall's Pack record of 115 set just last year. Stephens .452 success rate is currently the third best season in Pack history. Stephens never made more the 73 threes in a season with Purdue or shot better than 38 percent. On the Pack, though, he could toss up a 3-pointer from the bench and Musselman wouldn't mind. "Kendall, in our opinion, is one of the best shooters in the country. He has NBA range. Every time he shoots it we think its going in."
David Padgett has done a solid job filling in for Rick Pitino this year as Louisville's men's basketball coach under difficult conditions. The former Northern Nevada high school standout, though, could be out of job at the end of the season. Louisville has won 18 games but it has lost five of its last eight and is in serious jeopardy of not making the NCAA tournament. Padgett, though, deserves to get the permanent job. He's a former Louisville player and assistant coach. He would be the perfect coach as Louisville tries to dig itself out from under the Pitino scandal. Padgett, who's assisted at Louisville by former Pack coach Trent Johnson, also made a classy gesture this week after the NCAA forced Louisville to vacate its 2013 national title and 2012 Final Four appearance. Padgett texted members of the 2013 team and told them, "That doesn't change the fact that you won that tournament. You cut down the nets." Louisville needs to do the right thing and give Padgett a five-year deal.
Another coach with Northern Nevada ties might also be out of a job at the end of the season. Ex-Pack coach Mark Fox hasn't taken Georgia to the NCAA tournament since the 2014-15 season and is just 15-12 this year overall and 6-9 in the Southeastern Conference. Fox, now in his ninth year at Georgia, has taken the Bulldogs to just two NCAA tournaments and never got past the first round. He's just 76-77 in SEC games in his Georgia career. Fox's current deal at Georgia runs through the 2019-20 season and Georgia would have to pay him $1.1 million to buy out his contract after this year.
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