Young Pack ready to open season with confidence | NevadaAppeal.com

Young Pack ready to open season with confidence

JOE SANTORO
For the Nevada Appeal

David Carter isn’t worried about his Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team at all.

“We are where I think we should be right now,” said Carter, whose Wolf Pack were the only Western Athletic Conference team to lose its exhibition game last week. “Are we further along than last year’s team at this point of the season? No, but that was a veteran team. But we’re not far off.”

The Wolf Pack, which played nine new players in last Saturday’s 84-81 loss to Seattle Pacific, is clearly not dwelling on or overreacting to its disappointing performance at home on opening night.

“That game doesn’t count on our record,” Carter said. “We we’re more concerned with just getting everybody’s feet wet in a game.”

The Pack insists it will head into Saturday afternoon’s (2 p.m.) regular season opener against the Montana Grizzlies at Lawlor Events Center with its confidence intact, its belief in one another undivided and its hope for the future unbroken.

“Oh, yes, our confidence is still there,” said freshman point guard Deonte Burton, who led the Pack with 28 points in 30 minutes last Saturday. “We’re just trying to get better and better.”

“Our team chemistry is high,” said freshman center Devonte Elliott, who had 10 rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench last week.

Despite the final score, there was a lot to like for the Pack against Seattle Pacific in addition to Burton’s scoring and Elliott’s work on the boards. The Pack outrebounded the Falcons, 45-31, backup shooting guard Jordan Finn had 15 points in 18 minutes, 6-7 freshman Jordan Burris had seven rebounds in just 12 minutes, center Illiwa Baldwin was active with six points and four rebounds in 19 minutes, Burton turned the ball over just two times in 30 minutes and Dario Hunt had eight points, six boards and a block in just 16 minutes.

“I thought we played pretty well,” Elliott said. “We’re still learning the offense. Last week we were just playing off instincts a lot. So we’ll get better. We just need to work on our execution. But that will come.”

Carter attributes most of the Pack’s problems (16 turnovers, 10 missed free throws, 41 % shooting, allowing 84 points to a Division II team at home) in the exhibition game to a case of the jitters.

“We just had a lot of butterflies in that last game,” said Carter, who heads into his second season as head coach after a 21-13 rookie year. “I think we got a little stage fright. That’s all.”

“The butterflies are gone,” Burton said. “We’re ready.”

“This is going to be huge game for us,” said Elliott of the Pack’s game against Montana. “This is the season opener.”

The Wolf Pack has a score to settle with Montana. The last time these two former Big Sky Conference rivals met, Montana handed the Pack one of its most disappointing losses in school history, 87-79, in the 2006 NCAA Tournament first round at Salt Lake City.

Montana, which won its exhibition game 10 days ago over Lewis-Clark State (59-39), returns 6-foot-10 center Brian Qvale, 7-foot center Derek Selvig and 6-1 guard Will Cherry from last year’s team that finished 22-8 and went to the NCAA Tournament.

The Grizzlies, which beat WAC teams Boise State and Fresno State last year, lost leading scorer Anthony Johnson (19.2 points) off last year’s team. Johnson scored a Big Sky Conference tournament record 42 points as the Grizzlies beat Weber State to earn its spot in the NCAA Tournament.

The Pack, though, concentrated more this week on its own problems than it did on a game plan for Montana.

“After we watched film of (the exhibition game) we saw that the majority of mistakes we made were very correctable,” Carter said. “We didn’t do anything wrong that we can’t easily fix. It was nice to have a full week off after that game to work on things.”

Carter said he will stick with the same starting lineup (Burton, Jerry Evans, Kevin Panzer, Malik Story and Dario Hunt) as he used last week.

“I don’t like to put kids in and out of the starting lineup because I don’t want to mess with their confidence right now,” said Carter.

Carter, who started the same five (Luke Babbitt, Armon Johnson, Joey Shaw, Brandon Fields and Hunt) in every game but one last year, also said that the starting lineup won’t be set in stone until at least the middle of December. That’s when junior Olek Czyz, a 2008 Reno High graduate, will become eligible after transferring from Duke last December.

Carter also said he does not anticipate red-shirting any players on the current 16-player roster.

“You can’t play that many guys every game but the games are just one way for a player to earn playing time,” Carter said. “Just because a player doesn’t play one night, doesn’t mean he won’t play the next night. It’s also about working hard in practice and earning playing time that way.”

The Wolf Pack won’t have much practice time over the next week or so. After playing Montana, the Pack will head to Los Angeles where it will play two games in the NIT Season Tip-off tournament. They open against Pacific on Monday and will play either UCLA or Pepperdine on Tuesday.

“We’re just taking it one day at a time,” Burton said.