Jury still out on Pack
Appeal Sports Writer
As the snow falls gently in Boise, I can’t stop thinking how big Nevada’s basketball win over Boise State was on Thursday night.
The win avoided Nevada’s first three-game losing streak since the 2000-01 season when Nevada dropped five straight WAC games during February and March en route to a 3-13 conference mark under former head coach Trent Johnson.
The win enabled Nevada to stay in the upper half of the conference standings. At 4-3, Nevada is in fourth place, trailing Louisiana Tech, Utah State and Hawai’i, its opponent tonight.
Nevada coach Mark Fox hates and won’t talk about what ifs. It’s not his style, and he made that perfectly clear to myself and Steve Sneddon of the Reno-Gazette Journal when we asked him how big a loss would have been on Thursday.
Fox admits that his team has struggled in recent weeks, and no doubt he’s had a few “come to Jesus” meetings with certain individuals who he felt weren’t playing up to their abilities.
He was quick to say he never lost faith even when his team trailed by 12 points in the first half.
“It’s a step-by-step process,” Fox said. “There are no 10-point baskets. We’ve spent the last few days showing them the big picture.”
The Pack were downright methodical in whittling down Boise State’s double-digit lead, trading baskets throughout most of the second half. You could tell, that even with Coby Karl scoring at will, that the Pack had shaken off their lethargic first half and was starting to play better, especially at the offensive end where they shot 58 percent, hitting 15 of 26 from the floor.
Karl said that the Broncos were tentative in the second half, going away from their aggressive style, and he’s right.
Karl, though, got himself into foul trouble and sat out around four minutes midway through the second half, and Boise State is never the same team when he’s not at the point.
Nevada still has issues to deal with, as Nevada has nine WAC games and the Bracket Buster game left.
There’s time to clean up things like inconsistent rebounding and defense. Rebounding and defense are about desire, and the Pack has to get physically tougher with people; get a nasty streak and want to make a stop or grab a rebound.
The key to winning on the road is rebounding and good interior defense, and the key to winning at all is defense. Desire seemed to be lacking in the last couple of weeks, and until the second half of Thursday night’s game, I was wondering if Nevada lacked a little heart.
Nevada players need to realize they just can’t turn it off and on whenever they want. That won’t ever get it done.
Nevada also needs to get better play from the center spot.
Demarshay Johnson shows flashes of being good, but he needs to defend better and rebound better. Three rebounds against Boise State doesn’t cut it. Chad Bell seems to be coming on. He scored four points in each of the last two games. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but he’s making better decisions on the court and not taking as many out-of-range shots as he has in the past. I think Bell needs parameters. He has to understand his role, and what’s expected. I don’t think the team really wants him to take 15-foot jump shots. I think the Pack coaches probably feel a lot better when he’s taking the bulk of his shots from the right or left block, simply because it’s a higher-percentage shot.
Mo Charlo and Marcelus Kemp need to start playing more consistently.
Kemp has the offensive ability to take over games, but he’s also gotten into the habit of forcing up shots instead of making an extra pass at key times. In the latter stages of Thursday’s game, he made a nice move to get past his defender. Instead of pulling up for a short jump shot, he tried to take it all the way to the basket and was called for a charging foul with Nevada trailing 71-70.
Charlo is still struggling with his shot, and he needs to get back to the form he showed in the first nine games of the season when he led the team in assists and shot a respectable 42 percent. His field goal percentage has dropped a few points, but the big thing has been that he isn’t getting to the line as much, which tells me he’s lost some of his aggressiveness.
Does this team have enough heart to reverse things and put together a nice winning streak? They showed plenty of heart last night, and only time will tell if it has the heart needed to do this over the long haul.
Heart and the ability to play defense and rebound, two things Nevada did extremely well last year.
Contact Darrell Moody at email@example.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281