USC tops Nevada Wolf Pack, 76-66 | NevadaAppeal.com

USC tops Nevada Wolf Pack, 76-66

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal

RENO — The Nevada Wolf Pack made it easy for the USC Trojans Saturday night at Lawlor Events Center.

“We just got beat too badly in the paint,” Wolf Pack coach Steve Alford said after a 76-66 loss to the Trojans in front of the biggest home crowd this season at 9,833. “We just didn’t have any answer around the rim.”

The Trojans, now 4-0 this season, outscored the Wolf Pack 42-10 in the paint, led by 24 points from 6-foot-11 senior center Nick Rakocevic.

“We’re not taking charges, we’re not blocking shots,” said Alford, whose Wolf Pack fell to 2-2. “It’s hard to have any rim protection when you don’t do those two things.”

The Wolf Pack led for just three minutes in the game and trailed over the final 27:22.

“Our offense hurt our defense tonight,” Alford said. “We took too many bad shots in transition and when you take bad shots in transition it hurts your defense.”

The Pack made just 7-of-30 shots in the second half to finish off a 33 percent (20-of-61) effort from the floor. The Wolf Pack was 11-of-36 on threes and just 9-of-25 on twos.

“I definitely think we forced up too many shots, for sure,” said Pack point guard Lindsey Drew, who had 12 points, five assists and six rebounds in 33 minutes. “They (USC) were getting better shots than we were.”

Jalen Harris, who scored 24 points in the Pack’s 80-73 victory over Texas-Arlington on Tuesday, was just 3-of-19 from the floor, 1-of-8 on threes to finish with nine points in 34 minutes. The 6-foot-5 junior was laying just his second full game after suffering a foot injury in the season opener.

“I don’t think his foot had anything to do with his shooting,” Alford said. “He just took some bad shots. But it wasn’t just Jalen. A lot of guys were taking bad shots.”

Jazz Johnson led the Wolf Pack with 26 points on six threes. Johnson was 8-of-18 from the floor and 6-of-14 from beyond the arc. The rest of the team, though, scored just 40 points on 12-of-43 shooting overall.

“I just try to bring energy when I’m out there and bring a spark,” Johnson said. “It just wasn’t enough tonight.”

“Jazz had a great night,” Alford said. “He had a great motor and he scored the ball for us.”

The Wolf Pack has now lost as many games at home this season (two) in four games as it did the last two years combined when it went 42-2.

“It is what it is,” said Alford, who is now 11-5 against USC in his career. “We just need to continue to work on things and get better. It’s early. We’re young. It (the two losses) is not for a lack of effort.”

USC went on two huge runs in the first half to take a 40-35 lead at the half.

The Trojans erupted for an 11-0 run that took just under three minutes for a 13-5 lead with 15:20 to go in the half. The first six points of the run all came on layups by Elijah Weaver, Jonah Mathews and Rakocevic before Ethan Anderson connected on an 18-foot jumper and Weaver drained a 3-pointer.

A 13-0 run that took just over four minutes gave the Trojans a 31-21 lead with 4:13 to play in the half. Rakocevic, who had 16 points at halftime, scored on a short jumper in the lane and on a layup to begin and end the run. Daniel Utomi hit a 3-pointer that was followed by a short jumper in the lane by Onyeka Okongwu and layups by Isaiah Mobley and Weaver.

The Wolf Pack, though, responded well to both of USC’s big runs. The Pack went on a 16-5 run of its own to take a 21-18 lead with 8:33 to go in the half. Johnson connected on two threes during the run and Harris and Zane Meeks each had one.

The Pack, which beat USC 73-61 last season in Los Angeles, also closed the half well, scoring 14 points over the final four minutes to slice USC’s lead to just five (40-35) at the break. Johnson drained his third three of the half and was fouled on the play. The senior, who had 12 points at halftime, converted the free throw for a fur-point lead, cutting USC’s lead to 31-25 with 3:55 to go. Johnson also hit a 12-foot jumper 46 seconds later to pull the Pack within 31-27.

Drew gave the Pack momentum going into the halftime locker room with a pair of threes in the final 1:21 of the half. His first 3-pointer cut USC’s lead to 38-32 and his second one with 26 seconds to go closed the first-half scoring.

The Wolf Pack relied heavily on threes in the first half, making 8-of-20. The Pack was just 5-of-11 inside the arc. USC, by comparison, went inside for most of its offense in the first half, making 3-of-7 threes and 15-of-31 twos. The Trojans domination inside began in the first half when it outscored the Wolf Pack 28-6 in the paint.

“We want to shoot threes,” Alford said. “We were 11-of-36 on threes and I’ll take that everyday. Our 3-point shooting wasn’t our problem. Our problem was taking too many bad shots on twos.”

Johnson and freshman K.J. Hymes combined to score the Wolf Pack’s first 16 points of the second half, keeping the Pack within striking distance.

Johnson had a layup 90 seconds into the half and also hit his fourth 3-pointer of the game to pull the Pack within 45-40 with 17:30 to go in the half. Hymes, who did not score in two first-half minutes, made 1-of-2 free throws with 16:18 to go and then converted a 3-point play 53 seconds later to cut USC’s lead to 47-44.

Another two free throws by Hymes pulled the Pack to within 50-46 with 14:39 to play and two free throws by Johnson cut USC’s lead to 54-48 with 13:05 left. Johnson also connected for his fifth 3-pointer of the game and another free throw for his second four-point play of the game as the Pack cut USC’s lead to just 56-52 with 12:29 remaining.

Someone other than Johnson or Hymes finally scored for the Pack in the second half as Harris had a layup with 10:07 to play. Unfortunately for the Pack, however, it came in the middle of a 9-2 USC run as the Trojans built a 65-54 advantage with 8:27 to play.

USC, playing its first road game of the year, did most of its damage from the free throw line during the run as Rakocevic was 4-for-4, Weaver was 2-for-2 and Mathews made 1-of-2. Rakocevic also had a layup during the run with 11 minutes to play.

The Pack offense, though, dried up down the stretch.

Nevada went more than four minutes without a field goal as USC expanded its lead to 70-59 with 4:16 to play as Mathews drained a 3-pointer and Utomi hit a jumper. Johnson’s sixth 3-pointer with 3:58 to go pulled the Pack within 70-62 but it was the Pack’s first field goal since Harris’ 3-point play with 8:17 left. The next Pack field goal didn’t come for more than another two minutes as Drew connected on a jumper to cut USC’s lead to 75-66 with 1:24 to go.

The Wolf Pack will now head out on a four-game road trip beginning Tuesday night at Davidson. The Pack will also play three games at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands Nov. 22-25 before returning home to host Santa Clara on Dec. 4.