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Sonoma State no match for Nevada

Darrell Moody
Nevada Appeal Sports Writer

RENO ” Nevada coach Mark Fox gave his team an ultimatum on Monday. Hold Sonoma State to 50 points or less or face an early practice session this morning.

No problem.

The Wolf Pack held Sonoma State to a frigid 23.1 percent effort from the line and set season highs in blocked shots (12) and rebounds (52) en route to a 95-39 win at Lawlor Events Center.

The 56-point victory was the biggest for the Wolf Pack since the team turned in an 88-33 win over Colorado-Colorado Springs on Nov. 20, 2004 in Fox’s first game as head coach.

Nevada, which improved to 4-4, scored a season-high 95 points in the game and also turned in season highs for field goal percentage (.534), 3-point percentage (.500), assists (24) and free throw percentage (.871, 27-31).

Luke Babbitt led Nevada with 16 points while Malik Cooke and Armon Johnson added 14 apiece. Joey Shaw also reached double figures with 10.

“We set a defensive goal which we met,” Fox said. “I wanted them to defend for a full 40 minutes.”

It was an overwhelming win against an outmatched opponent. It’s not certain what Nevada can take from a win against a vastly inferior team. Sonoma State coach Pat Fuscaldo was understandably disappointed.

“It’s been a tough 10 days,” he said. “We played two conference games at the opposite end of the state. We haven’t had the time to practice and our kids have missed six days of school.

“I’m disappointed that we were not competitive at all. You want to make them have to run their stuff through. This was embarrassing. We’ve played Division I teams a ton of times, and this was probably the worst we’ve played.”

This one was close for about six minutes when Sonoma State trailed 17-11. It got ugly from there, as Nevada used a decided height advantage to score at will against the Seawolves, who dropped to 3-4.

Nevada which shot a season-best 61.8 from the field in the first half, played unselfish basketball with 15 assists on 21 baskets.

Nevada, which scored the game’s first six points, never trailed throughout the first 20 minutes. The Pack outscored Sonoma State 20-4 in the final 8 minutes 26 seconds en route to a 49-22 lead. The Seawolves went without a point for six minutes.

Armon Johnson started the surge with a fadeaway jump shot and slam dunk. Neither team could find the range over the next 2 1/2 minutes, but Nevada scored nine unanswered as Babbitt scored on a slam dunk and 3-pointer, Brandon Fields knocked down a jump shot and Richie Phillips scored on a short bank shot to make it 42-18 with 3:18 left.

Ben Washington ended the drought with a lay-up after a Nevada turnover, and Fields hit a 3-pointer for a 45-20 lead. Freshman Ahyaro Phillips scored four straight points to end the first half.

“We just couldn’t score,” Fuscaldo said. “We had 12 offensive rebiunds at the half and we couldn’t capitalize. We couldn’t finish.”

Phillips, who was in his third game since coming off the suspended list, finished with a career-high eight points and a career-best eight rebounds. He was active in his 21-minute stint and got his hands on a lot of balls. He blocked two shots and had two steals.

“It felt great,” Phillips said. “It was a long time coming. I think I did OK. I don’t think coach Fox was disappointed.

“I can do whatever we need. Defense and rebounding are the things I was brought in here to do. We have a bunch of guys that can score on this team. I picked up a couple of fouls and had a couple of bonehead plays.”

Fox, who was sitting close by, had a smile on his face after hearing Phillips’ self evaluation.

“He rebounded well,” Fox said. “He needs lots of time to get comfortable. It’s good to have a live, long body.”

In the second half, Nevada picked up right where it left off. The Pack scored the first eight points of the half en route to a 17-6 run and a 66-28 lead with 13:43 remaining. Johnson scored five in the surge while Shaw drained four free throws.

The Pack put together one more big run, 24-4, against the defenseless Seawolves to extend its lead to 90-34 with 5:18 left. Cooke had eight of his 14 in that span.