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Nevada needs defense, rebounding, leadership

Darrell Moody
Appeal Sports Writer

This is Utah State’s first trip to Lawlor Events Center as a member of the Western Athletic Conference, but USU coach Stew Morrill is no stranger to the facility or the Reno area for that matter.

Morrill, who had head-coaching stops at Montana and Colorado State before landing in Logan, Utah, has visited Nevada with all three of his teams. His last trip was back in 1999 when Nevada and Utah State were both in the Big West.

“I have good and bad memories,” Morrill said on a conference call with Nevada and Utah State beat writers Friday morning. “That’s usually the way it is.

“When I was at Montana, Wayne Tinkle made a shot in the lane to give us a win. Losing a game (here) when I was at Colorado State. One of our players was so mad, he punched a hole in the lockerroom wall and we had to pay for it, or he had to pay for it. I can’t remember how that ended up.”

Morrill did win a conference post-season tournament in the 90s when the Big West event was held at Lawlor Events Center.

“It’s been a mixed bag,” Morrill said.

The first year in the WAC has probably been a tad easier on Morrill, who said he has played in all the arenas in the WAC except for Louisiana Tech, knows about many of the schools because several were in the Big West or the Big Sky.

He admitted that the WAC is better overall than the Big West.

“The players are bigger, better and stronger, and more athletic,” Morrill said. “It’s an adjustment as we go.

“In the Big West, the good teams in the upper half were comparable to WAC teams. Look at Pacific. They beat the top WAC teams last year (Nevada at Nevada and UTEP in Stockton). I don’t think top to bottom the Big West was nearly as strong.”

Morrill enters this game on a roll. His team is 4-2 in conference play and the Aggies have won three straight in conference and eight of their last nine overall. Still, Morrill said this game isn’t a do or die game, though he would love to get a road win, which are hard to come by in the WAC.

“It’s certainly a huge bonus if we find a way to win,” Morrill said. “I don’t want the team to think that we should get this one or we’re in trouble. I look at it as a tough game, and it would be a huge bonus if we get it.

“We play Nevada and Hawai’i the next two Monday nights. After we’re done with both, we’ll have a better feel for where we’re at.”

Not that Morrill cares, but I agree with him. Monday night’s nationally televised game isn’t a make or break deal for the Pack, but crunch time is fast approaching, and the team needs to run off a nice streak.

I can already tell this league appears to be much more balanced than it was a year ago. I certainly think the winner of the regular season could do it with a 10-6 or 11-5 record. I say that because Nevada is still tough to beat at home, but the Pack aren’t rebounding and playing defense like they did on the road last year as evidenced by Wednesday’s debacle at Fresno State.

Another thing I see is the lack of leadership, and this is where the Pack are missing Kevinn Pinkney. Last year it was Pinkney’s team. He was the leader and set the pace when it came to defense and rebounding. He alone had more success than anybody in the conference against Paul Millsap, and we all know how tough he is to handle.

This team desperately needs somebody with a bit of a nasty streak in them to step up and lead this team. This is a nice group of guys, but the leadership certainly isn’t there yet and I don’t think the chemistry is where it should be. There are times when players on this team appear to have their own agendas. The selfishness needs to stop, and this team needs to bond together, or a third straight NCAA trip will be wishful thinking.

Mo Charlo needs to shake off the funk that he appears in and start playing like he did the first nine games of the season when he was rock solid. He alluded to personal problems a couple of weeks ago, and he needs to overcome that. Charlo is a player with a huge upside; a player who can do so many things well. His offensive game has gone south on him, and he needs to get that back in a hurry.

Fortunately, the Pack are getting better offense from Kyle Shiloh, who has strung together three great offensive games. Hopefully he can keep that up, which gives Nevada a fourth potential double-figure scorer. Shiloh is Nevada’s second-best scorer through the first five conference games (13.4), and no that’s not a misprint. He’s become a dangerous 3-point shooter, connecting on 59 percent of his 3-point attempts in conference games.

The expectations are high for this team based on its last two NCAA appearances. This team can score, so it will come down to defense as to whether this group can take control of the conference like everybody expects it to.

Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281