Nevada men rout Rice
RENO – It’s hard to fathom the University of Nevada can play a better basketball game than it did Saturday against Rice.
The Wolf Pack scored a season-best 57 points in the first half, shot nearly 60 percent from the floor and held the dangerous Michael Harris to 13 points en route to a surprisingly easy 101-76 win over Rice before a crowd of 8,873 at Lawlor Events Center.
Seth Taylor’s 18-footer with seven seconds remaining put the Wolf Pack over the 100 mark and brought the crowd to its feet in appreciation. It was the first time since the 1997-98 season against North Texas State (107-93 win) that the Wolf Pack eclipsed the century mark.
The win was Nevada’s ninth straight at home matching a mark set in the 1977-78 season when the Jim Carey coached Wolf Pack went 19-8.
“We passed the ball extremely well tonight,” said Nevada coach Trent Johnson. “We’ve been in the same situation (as Rice) where we’ve played four games in eight days. I don’t want to take away anything from our guys, but they did look sluggish at the start. We really executed at crucial times. Anytime you score 100 points against a team of that caliber, you have to be pleased.
“I think this was the best we’ve played in league. The best game I thought we played this year was in Vegas (74-62 win, Nov. 24) because of the way we executed in a hostile environment.”
All five starters – Kirk Snyder (22), Kevinn Pinkney (11), Garry Hill-Thomas (16), Todd Okeson (16) and Nick Fazekas (22) – scored in double figures. It was the 12th time that Snyder has led or shared scoring honors, and it was the sixth time in the last seven games that Fazekas, who tied his career high for points, has reached double figures.
Snyder scored 11 points in the first six minutes, but the most impressive thing was his nine first-half assists. “I knew they’d be focused on stopping me, but we have tremendous talent on this team, guys like Todd, Garry Hill-Thomas, Kevinn and Nick, and sometimes teams look past them,” Snyder said. “They make it pretty easy for me to get them the ball. Some of the other guys stepped up in a big way tonight and finished.”
“When he’s on, nobody can stop him,” Fazekas said. “He attracts the defense and opens up other guys.”
Johnson, however, is quick to point out that everything doesn’t revolve around his 6-6 standout guard, though he said Snyder had a good game.
“It’s defending well and getting into transition and running the ball,” he said. “It’s Todd starting plays right and Garry starting plays right. It doesn’t start at the offensive end with this team.”
Make no mistake about it, Johnson likes his defense, and containing Harris was critical to Nevada’s success. Harris got up only three first-half shots and finished with two points in the first 20 minutes.
“We were doubling down on him,” said Okeson. “We didn’t want to lose because of him.”
“We were going to help off (Rashid) Smith,” Johnson said. “If you give him any angle 1-on-1, he’s going to punish you.”
With Harris nullified, Rice was unable to find any other offense, thus was no match in the first half for the Wolf Pack, who hit 20 of 33 field-goal attempts.
A 9-0 run and a 14-2 run helped the Wolf Pack build a 25-7 lead with 11:55 left in the half. Snyder scored five in the first spurt, including three on a nice post-up move and the ensuing free throw. Fazekas had five during the second run, including a slam dunk.
Two more big runs enabled Nevada to increase its lead to a whopping 26 points at the half.
Okeson ignited the offense with eight points, including two three-point field goals, in a 14-2 run that put the Wolf Pack up 49-23. Fazekas scored six of Nevada’s last eight to wrap up the season-best half. Rice shot just 31 percent in that span.
“Our intensity from the beginning was great,” Snyder said. “That’s as hard as we’ve come out all year.”
“We knew it was a big game, and we knew it was one we needed,” Fazekas said. “We moved the ball well and got great shots the entire game, and we knocked them down.”
Nevada scored the first hoop of the second half for its biggest lead of the game, 59-31, but Rice came back and knocked down four straight threes in a 12-1 run, cutting Nevada’s lead to 59-40 with 16:16 left.
The teams traded basket for the next seven minutes until Rice went on a 7-0 run, slicing the lead to 77-62 with 8:18 left. The surge was punctuated by Jamaal Moore’s rim-rattling dunk.
That’s when things got ugly. Rice assistant Marty Gross and Johnson exchanged words near the scorer’s table, and Gross was hit with a technical foul by Rick Batsell. The incident took the momentum away that Rice had built up.
Johnson, who was an assistant at Tulsa many years ago, wouldn’t discuss the incident. He said he would talk to the Tulsa staff later.
Okeson knocked down the two technical free throws, Snyder hit a three from the top of the key and Fazekas canned a hook shot from the right baseline to make it 84-62. After a basket by Moore, Sean Paul hit a fadeaway and Okeson nailed two more free throws for a 24-point cushion. The lead never dropped below 20 the rest of the way.
“We made solid plays in the half-court,” Johnson said. “The assist to turnover ratio was the best (23 assists, 10 turnovers) it’s been all year. This was the most draining 20-point win I’ve ever been involved in.”