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Santoro grades Nevada hoop starters

JOE SANTORO
For the Nevada Appeal

RENO – Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team after a 78-75 loss to Arizona State on Friday night at Lawlor Events Center …

STARTERS

DARIO HUNT: A-

Hunt continues to be a stabilizing force on this young team. The junior center had 10 points and seven rebounds in 33 minutes. He also led the team with three assists and had a steal and just one turnover. His only negative was missing half of his eight free throws. He is on his way to an All-Western Athletic Conference season.

DEONTE BURTON: A-

Burton still is struggling with his outside shot (he missed five of his six 3-pointers) but he turned in one of his best games as a Pack player Friday night with 18 points and three steals in 33 minutes. The freshman also had just one turnover.

Once he gets a bit more consistent with his 3-point shot (he’s just 7-of-35 this year) he’ll really start to blossom. He still has trouble finding open teammates at times (he was the only one in the gym who didn’t see a wide-open Olek Czyz under the basket on one possession in the second half) but that will come as he gets more comfortable in the offense.

MALIK STORY: B+

Story led the Pack with 19 points and also chipped in with four rebounds. And he did it when the Pack needed it the most, scoring 15 points in the second half (3-of-6 on threes in the second half). He hit a 3-pointer to pull the Pack within 40-39 and also drained another trey to slice Arizona State’s lead to 67-66 with 1:15 to play.

But, with shooters like Story, you’re going to get the good and the bad. He also took two very deep threes in the final minute (he missed both) that he rushed a bit. But you have to admire his willingness to take the tough shots in the tough situations.

That’s his role on this young team. He also had two outstanding plays in the lane. He exploded down the right side for a lay-up in the first half and he hit a jumper in the lane and drew a foul for a 3-point play in the second half to cut the deficit to 64-63.

KEVIN PANZER: C

Panzer, it seems, could be the one who loses playing time because of the emergence of Olek Czyz. Panzer, a freshman, played just eight minutes and was 1-for-2 from the field. He was averaging just under 20 minutes a game B.C. (Before Czyz).

JORDAN FINN: C

Finn, starting for the first time this season, played 16 minutes, took only two shots and didn’t score. He did have three rebounds but he also had a turnover and no assists. Hunt, Burton and Story seem to be locked into starting roles. And Czyz should be starting soon (Monday night against Portland State?). That leaves one starting spot open for everyone else (namely Panzer, Finn, Jordan Burris, Jerry Evans). That fifth and final starting spot just might be a revolving door depending on match-ups and who is playing well.

BENCH: A

Olek Czyz took over the game over a 10-minute stretch in the second half. The former Duke Blue Devil and Reno High Huskies star had 10 points and seven rebounds in his 24 minutes. He also seemed to mesh very well with Hunt in the paint. Czyz isn’t a finished product. He still doesn’t handle the ball all that well and his shot is still erratic (he missed 4-of-7 free throws) but he’s instant excitement and energy … Jerry Evans also continues to impress. The red-shirt freshman has a world of talent. He had eight points, five rebounds and an assist in 17 minutes against the Sun Devils. He could start on this team but he also seems to be thriving coming off the bench. He could be a great sixth man this year …. Backup centers Illiwa Baldwin and Devonte Elliott are one-dimensional players right now (Baldwin on offense and Elliott on defense). And that’s not a bad thing in a backup role. Baldwin had a frustrating stretch where he missed a dunk and a lay-up and then slammed the ball to the court for a technical. Elliott had just two rebounds and two points in 14 minutes … Burris played just seven minutes and did a nice job on defense with a steal and a block. Burris is also a kid with a world of talent … Marko Cukic and Patrick Nyeko each saw the floor for only a few seconds … Backup point guard Derrell Conner hit a 3-pointer and had two turnovers in eight minutes. Conner now has 19 turnovers in 104 minutes this year.

COACHING: A

David Carter finally has his entire team at his disposal. And it showed. Carter let three players (Hunt, Burton, Story all played 33 minutes) play 30-plus minutes for the first time in a game this year. He also used just seven players a total of 10 or more minutes, the fewest this season. The difference? Well, it has to be Czyz, who played 24 minutes off the bench in his Nevada debut. Once Carter figures out a way to get this young team to come out of the locker room with energy and passion to start a game, this team will start to pile up the victories. But that’s not Carter’s fault. It’s the fault of a young team that hasn’t learned how to develop a sense of urgency yet. Once Hunt, Burton, Story and Czyz all start to play 30-plus minutes every night, this team will start to take off. It seems that is where we’re headed.