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Nevada Wolf Pack basketball: UNLV jumps out early, cruises to win

JOE SANTORO
FOR THE NEVADA APPEAL

RENO – It’s a good thing the Fremont Cannon was nowhere to be found at Lawlor Events Center Saturday night. David Carter might have fired it at his own bench in the first half.

“Everybody shot the ball and everybody missed,” said the Nevada men’s basketball coach of the first 11 minutes of the Wolf Pack’s 82-70 loss to the UNLV Rebels. “We missed layups, 15-footers, every type of shot. We were shooting shots that we didn’t even practice, that we didn’t even want to get. I didn’t have an answer for it.”

The Wolf Pack missed its first 13 shots, fell behind 22-2 and never really recovered in losing for the sixth consecutive time this season. The Wolf Pack, now 1-6, also has lost five in a row to its in-state rival.

“We just weren’t ready to play,” Wolf Pack junior Dario Hunt said.

“Their pressure kind of rattled us,” freshman point guard Deonte Burton said.

The Wolf Pack didn’t convert its first successful field goal until Burton drained a 10-footer from the left baseline with 9:05 left in the first half, cutting UNLV’s lead to 22-6. The Pack also turned the ball over six times in those first 11 frustrating minutes.

“Every possession, they come at you,” said Burton of UNLV’s pressure defense. “They come at you like a swarm of bees. You can’t get rid of them.”

The Rebels, now 8-0 and ranked 24th in the Associated Press rankings, forced the Wolf Pack into 17 turnovers, 12 in the first half.

“We’re playing hard,” UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. “The guys really did a good job defensively. It was just a combination of a lot of good play by everybody. We were pretty solid the first 12 minutes.”

The game was all but decided in those early minutes. The Wolf Pack actually outscored the Rebels 45-36 in the second half and 68-60 over the final 29 minutes of the game.

“We were just rushing too much,” said Burton of those crucial first 11 minutes. “That’s what their press intends for you to do. It forces you to panic a little bit.”

The Pack shot just 21 percent (5-of-24) in the first half and found itself down 46-25 at halftime.

“It was just a lot of mental mistakes,” junior forward Malik Story said. “We just came out real slow.”

“We just weren’t mentally prepared for this game,” Burton said.

Carter, though, thought he prepared his team as well as possible.

“We knew exactly what they were going to do,” Carter said. “They were going to pressure us. We knew that. We just didn’t handle it the right way. When a team comes at you like that, you need to slow it down. But we sped up. They made us play faster than we wanted to.”

The Rebels went on a 14-0 run over a 5:27 stretch early in the first half to build its 22-2 lead. The Pack never cut the deficit to less than 10 (62-52 with eight minutes left) the rest of the game.

“We got a good effort in the second half,” Story said. “I wished we would have gotten that type of effort the whole game.”

The Pack did cut the deficit to 36-23 with two minutes left in the first half on a pair of free throws by Hunt. The Rebels, though, went on a 10-2 run over the final minute of the first half to take a 46-25 lead at the intermission.

“Every time we would go on a run, they would answer,” Carter said. “But that’s what good teams do.”

Burton, who had 15 points and three assists, drained a 3-pointer to slice the Rebel lead to 62-52 midway through the second half.

The Pack, which shot 58 percent in the second half, came out of its halftime locker room with more energy and actually scored the first seven points of the second half. Hunt, who had 14 points and 13 rebounds, keyed that early run with four points and a block. Burton also drove the length of the court for a layup to cut the deficit to 46-32 with 17 minutes left.

“We just told them to take it possession by possession,” Carter said. “I thought we took care of the ball much better in the second half. But UNLV just made big shots.”

Oscar Bellfield, who scored a game-high 24 points, seemed to hit the biggest shots for the Rebels. His 3-pointer with 7:44 to go put the Rebels up 65-52. The 6-foot-2 junior also hit a 3-pointer for a 78-60 lead with 3:22 to go that all but put the game away.

“Oscar was fantastic,” Kruger said. “It seems like every time we needed a bucket to keep that margin, to keep them at arms length, he stepped up and made a big play.”

Story, who scored 15 points, had a couple of consolation 3-pointers in the final 1:36 to make the final score respectable.

“That’s a very good basketball team,” said Carter of UNLV. “Like Deonte (Burton) said, they just swarm you. After playing at South Dakota State (a 82-65 Pack loss on Tuesday) we only had two days of practice to prepare for this team. You can’t prepare for a team like that with their speed and physicality in two days.”

Carter now has one day to prepare his team to face Houston on the road on Monday night.

“We just have to get more consistent as a team,” Carter said. “We need seven or eight guys on a given night to play at a high level. We haven’t had that yet.”