Nevada shows muscle on the boards
RENO-Wanted: Big man willing to work under the basketball backboard in exchange for athletic scholarship to Cal-State Fullerton.
That’s the classified ad Fullerton basketball coach Bob Hawking should consider running in the Orange County Register this morning after seeing Nevada dominate the glass Saturday night in a 77-60 win over his Titans.
The Wolf Pack outrebounded the Titans 54-30, and the Pack’s total included 26 offensive rebounds. Many of those offensive rebounds turned into easy layups for Nevada (4-9), which now finds itself the surprising co-leader of the Big West’s Eastern Division with a 2-0 record.
“To be outrebounded 54-30 is an insurmountable number when you’re trying to win a game,” said a disgruntled Hawking following the loss that dropped the Titans (0-2, 5-8) into last place in the Big West’s Western Division. “We have to find a way to get the job done. Right now, we don’t have the answers.
Matt Ochs, Nevada’s freshman center from Reed High who had his biggest collegiate game to date with 10 points and seven rebounds, said the Titan’s choice to stick with a zone defense throughout the game gave the Pack plenty of opportunities to hit the boards.
“They played zone most of the night, and we were able to find gaps in their defense for rebounding position,” said Ochs, whose previous best was eight points against UC Irvine on Thursday. “Their playing zone helped us get rebounds and win the game.”
The Pack’s most impressive numbers were turned in by Richard Stirgus, who had 18 boards (eight offensive) and 13 points.
“Richard’s 18 rebounds is incredible,” Ochs said. “He’s a great leaper; those rebounds really helped us out.”
Nevada had started out the game the way it had played in so many previous contests this season, shooting poorly while falling behind 13-4. But by halftime, aided by Terrance Green’s nine first-half points, the Pack had a slim 33-29 lead.
Green, who finished as Nevada’s top scorer with 23 points, was red-hot to begin the second half, hitting three 3-pointers in the span of just over a minute to increase the Pack’s lead to 45-38.
Despite Green’s shooting, the Titans were able to remain competitive and trailed by only five, 61-56, with 7:34 left in the game.
But Fullerton went cold from the floor at the wrong time, scoring just four points down the stretch. The Titans finished with just two threes out of 13 attempts down the stretch.
Ike Harmon, the Titans’ All-Big West player, had 21 points, but he wasn’t heard from in the game’s crucial moments. He failed to score in the final seven minutes as Nevada pulled away from the Titans with runs of 7-0 and 12-2 to close out the game.
Nevada coach Trent Johnson attributed his team’s improved play to the players’ growing confidence.
“Terrance (Green), Matt (Ochs), Rich (Stirgus) – all the kids are getting confident,” Johnson said. “Gradually, we’re starting to get our confidence. A lot has to do with who we’re playing and where we’re playing now, as opposed to who we were playing and where we were playing in the preseason.
“We’re getting better. Wins and losses – a lot of that has to do with who you play, where you play, and your talent level. But we’re getting better and hopefully we can go on the road and continue to play well.”
Nevada now has its first big conference road test of the season as it plays at Cal Poly on Thursday at 7 p.m.
“The big thing for us to compete is to do the little things right and concentrate,” Johnson said. “We go back to practice at noon Monday, and we’ll continue to do the things we’ve been working on. Hopefully, by the time we get on the bus for Cal Poly, we’ll be the same team that we saw tonight.”