Pack almost blows lead, edges Hawaii
For the Nevada Appeal
RENO – The Nevada Wolf Pack wasn’t looking for any style points Saturday night.
“A win is a win,” Wolf Pack sophomore Luke Babbitt said after a less-than-artistic 66-60 victory over the Hawaii Warriors in front of 7,490 fans at Lawlor Events Center. “It seems like every time we play Hawaii it’s like that. It was kind of ugly, the fans would say, I guess. But we were able to battle and win the game.”
The Wolf Pack, 13-8 overall and 5-3 in the Western Athletic Conference, improved to 10-1 at home.
“We just wanted to get a win,” said Babbitt, who scored a game-high 20 points. “Wins are hard to come by.”
This one was more difficult than most.
The Wolf Pack was outrebounded (35-33), turned the ball over 15 times and struggled to put away a team that had not won a game on the road all season. Hawaii, now 9-13 overall and 2-7 in the WAC, spotted the Pack a 10-0 lead and had just one lead all night, 30-28 in the opening two minutes of the second half.
“We’ll have a good teaching tape from this one,” Pack coach David Carter said. “So this will be good for us. We’ll come in Monday, happy because we got a win, look at this film and learn from it.”
The Wolf Pack learned that it is indeed possible to go without a point for nearly nine minutes and still win a game. The Pack went scoreless over the final 5 minutes, 59 seconds of the first half and first 2:44 of the second half (8:43 total) and still was looking at a deficit of just 30-28.
“We rushed our shots a little, got out of rhythm and got a little impatient,” said Carter of the 8:43 scoreless streak.
The Pack, though, ended the scoring drought with a flurry.
Starting with a jumper by Babbitt to tie the game at 30-30 with 17:16 to go, the Pack went on a 20-5 run over six minutes to take control, 48-35. The Pack got four 3-pointers during the run, two by Brandon Fields and one each by Joey Shaw and Armon Johnson. Babbitt also contributed with three mid-range jumpers.
The scoring outburst was reminiscent of the first four minutes of the game when the Pack exploded out to a 14-4 lead. Johnson, who had nine assists in the first half and 12 in the game, had five assists in the first four minutes.
“I wasn’t really thinking about shooting myself because it wasn’t there at the beginning of the game,” said Johnson, who attempted just one shot in the first half. “We were going up against a zone all game and we just wanted to get each other the ball.”
Hawaii went on a run of its own in the second half, outscoring the Pack 21-8 over nine minutes to tie the game at 56-56 with two minutes to play. Roderick Flemings (17 points) scored eight points and Brandon Adams (13) scored seven points to key the Warriors’ comeback.
“They just play real hard,” said Johnson. “We had to match their intensity.”
The Pack did just that in the final two minutes, outscoring Hawaii 10-4 to secure the victory. They did it without a field goal, scoring all 10 points from the free throw line (six by Babbitt, four by Shaw). Hawaii ended up missing three of its last five free throws and turned the ball over with 13 seconds to go.
It wasn’t pretty. But it was effective.
“We’re better shooters than we showed tonight,” said Fields, who hit four 3-pointers and scored 16 points.
The Pack finished with a decent night from the floor, shooting 45 percent. That’s because when they were good, they were very good. But when they were bad, well, that’s the reason why Hawaii was able to stay close all night.
“Hats off to them,” said Fields. “They played a zone and it slowed us down a lot.”
Hawaii, which was coming off an 83-60 loss at San Jose State on Thursday night, had allowed 73.6 points a game in WAC play this season.
“Against a zone, there are not a lot of cuts and screens,” Carter said. “It slows you down and gets you standing around a lot. It took us out of our rhythm.”
Hawaii outscored the Pack, 38-26, in the paint.
“You have to work it inside against a zone a little bit and we need to do a better job of that,” Carter said. “We spent too much time out on the perimeter.”
The Wolf Pack will not play again until Saturday night (Feb. 6) at Utah State.