Steve Alford wins 600th career game as Nevada Wolf Pack tops New Mexico
RENO — Steve Alford’s 600th career coaching victory was never in doubt as the Nevada Wolf Pack simply shot the New Mexico Lobos right out of Lawlor Events Center on Saturday.
The Wolf Pack equaled a school record with 17 3-pointers in a 96-74 victory over the Lobos in front of a crowd of 8,979. The Pack is now 13-8 overall and 6-3 at the midway point of the Mountain West season as Alford’s landmark 600th career victory (in 906 games) came against the school that he coached to 155 victories from 2007-13.
“It was a little hard,” the 55-year-old Alford said, “because that school (New Mexico) means so much to me.”
The victory wasn’t as difficult for Alford and the Pack.The Wolf Pack led for the final 34:28 and were up by at least 15 points the entire second half. The Pack did most of its damage from long distance, connecting on nine threes in the first half and eight more in the second half to bury the Lobos (16-6, 5-4). The 17 threes (six players had at least one) equaled the school record that was first set at Pacific on Nov. 18, 2017.
“We outrebounded them (50-26) and that allowed us to get out in transition and that helps,” Alford said. “And we’re passing the ball better. When our ball moves that gives us a chance to cut and get open.”
The Wolf Pack is now 28-of-61 on threes in its last two games. The Pack was 11-of-26 on threes in an 86-72 win over UNLV on Wednesday at Lawlor and was 17-of-35 against New Mexico.
“We made a lot of threes on this homestand,” Alford said. “But that’s kind of who we are.”
Nisre Zouzoua came off the bench to lead the Pack with 20 points and six threes. The senior had never had more than 16 points or three threes in a game in his two-year Pack career.
“We just had a lot of ball movement,” Zouzoua said. “We also have fun out there. We like playing together. My teammates just found me. They made the extra pass and shared the ball.”
The Wolf Pack had six players score in double figures. Jalen Harris, who was just 1-of-6 on threes, was right behind Zouzoua with 19 points. Harris was followed by Zane Meeks (13 points), Jazz Johnson (12), Johncarlos Reyes (10) and Lindsey Drew (10). It was the first time the Pack had six players in double figures since, oddly enough, a wintry over New Mexico last Feb. 9 at Lawlor.
“We played hard, we played disciplined,” Alford said. “Overall, it was just a tremendous effort. We put a lot of challenges to our team this week because we had to play two good teams (UNLV, New Mexico) and they met the challenges.”
The Wolf Pack dominated the first 20 minutes, taking a commanding 49-29 lead at the break. The 20-point advantage is the Pack’s second largest at halftime this year, behind a 53-29 lead over Santa Clara on Dec. 4 at Lawlor Events Center.
The Pack outrebounded the Lobos 25-8 in the first half as Reyes had eight. The Wolf Pack also drained 9-of-16 threes (56 percent) and shot 18-of-32 (56 percent) from the floor overall.Zane Martin did his best to keep the Lobos in the game, scoring more than half (16) of New Mexico’s points (29) in the first half on 5-of-12 shooting. No other Lobo, though, had more than six points (Corey Manigault) at the half. Martin would end up with a game-high 23 points. Vante Hendrix finished with 19 for the Lobos, scoring 17 in the second half.The Wolf Pack bench also outscored the Lobos’ bench 19-0 in the first half and 40-11 for the game. Zouzoua (20) and Meeks (13) led the bench while K.J. Hymes chipped in with seven.
“When we’ve been at our best, that’s when our bench has been big for us,” Alford said.
The Pack went on an 11-0 run thanks to 3-pointers by Meeks and Drew to take a 17-7 lead eight minutes into the game, wiping out the Lobos’ last lead (7-6) of the game.
The Pack went ahead 9-7 on a three-point play by Robby Robinson and held that lead for the rest of the game.The Wolf Pack outscored New Mexico 25-6 over a seven-minute span to take a huge 31-13 lead with just over eight minutes to play in the half. Zouzoua came off the bench to hit three 3-pointers in a span of just two minutes to key the run. Meeks also had a pair of threes in the run.
The Pack then all but put the game away with a 10-2 run over the final 2:45 of the half. Meeks and Johnson had threes during the late run after New Mexico had cut the Pack lead to 39-27 on back-to-back threes by Martin.Nothing changed in the second half.Johnson hit a 3-pointer less than a minute into the half and Harris connected from long distance two minutes later for a 57-32 Pack lead. Zouzoua hit his fourth 3-pointer for a 62-38 lead with 14:44 to go and his fifth for a 77-50 lead with 10:13 left. Meeks hit his third three of the game to put the Pack up 71-46 with a dozen minutes left in the game.
Hymes, a freshman, also got into the Wolf Pack 3-pointer party, connecting on the first of his career for an 80-54 Pack lead with 9:27 to play. It was Zouzoua’s sixth and final 3-pointer with 59 seconds to play that allowed the Pack to tie its school record of 17 threes in a game. Freshman Kane Milling (0-for-4 on threes) did his best to set a new school record but he missed twice in the final 28 seconds.
“This team needs some success and needs to build confidence and momentum for when we go on the road,” Alford said. “We did that on this homestand.”
The Pack, which has now won 17 consecutive Mountain West home games, will now head on the road to play at Colorado State on Jan. 29 and Boise State on Feb. 1 before returning to Lawlor to host Air Force on Feb 4.
“We definitely wanted these two games (against UNLV, New Mexico) before we go on the road,” Reyes said.
The Pack, now 9-2 at home this year, also wanted to get Alford his 600th win against his former school.
“Coach didn’t mention it to us this week at all,” Zouzoua said. “But it was definitely in the back of our minds to get it for him. We wanted to do it for him.”