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Wolf Pack’s second-half tsunami sinks Waves (photos)

By Michael Smyth
Published: Last Updated on

Story and Photos by Mike Smyth

Starting guards Grant Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge Jr. took advantage of some easy transition buckets and combined for 45 points to blow a close game open in the second half on Tuesday as Nevada got back on the winning track to drop the visiting Pepperdine Waves 79-66.

The Wolf Pack (4-4, 0-0 MW) played at Lawlor Event Center without head coach Steve Alford, who announced he had tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the day. Per Nevada Athletics policy, Alford will self-isolate for 10 days from the first onset of symptoms.

Alford will also miss the upcoming two-game road trip at North Texas and UT Arlington.

Nevada was left in the hands of assistant coach Kory Barnett, making his debut as an NCAA Division 1 basketball head man, and as recently as 2012 was finishing his playing career at the University of Indiana. Barnett was supported by assistant coach Bil Duany and director of player development Glen Worley.

“I found out when the announcement came down this afternoon. I’m always preparing for opportunity,” said Barnett, now 1-0 as a Division 1 head coach.

“It’s always a blow to lose the head of the ship, but we adjusted and went out there and played for each other.”

“I got coached up real good by Steve and by Craig (assistant coach Craig Neal, who was also unavailable), and we did this as a unit,” he added. “Coach Duany and coach Worley were phenomenal and it took all of us.”

Nevada took a narrow 35-32 lead to the locker room at the break, despite shooting 52% from the field. The Wolf Pack helped keep Pepperdine in the game courtesy of seven first-half turnovers resulting in nine points.

While the Pack dominated inside with 20 of their 35 first-half points coming in the paint, they failed to make even one trip to the foul line, while Pepperdine was a perfect 4-4 from the stripe.

“We talked at halftime about how we were playing solid defensively, but playing at their pace on offense,” said Sherfield. “We committed to pushing the pace, playing free and having some fun out there.”

The Pack picked up pressure on both ends of the floor in the second half.

“The second half was all about pace and pressure. Grant and Des were terrific, and we just imposed our will from the start,” said Barnett.

The combination of Sherfield (24 points on 10-18 shooting, 8 rebounds, 10 assists) and Cambridge (21 points, 5-10 from deep, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks) pushed the pace with the ball in their hands and exposed the Waves in transition, leading to wide open looks and easy baskets. In tandem with a suddenly inspired defense, Nevada began to take control with a 9-4 run to begin the half.

Desmond Cambridge Jr. made 5 of 10 shots from beyond the arc in Nevada’s 79-66 win vs Pepperdine on Nov. 30, 2021 at Lawlor Event Center. (Mike Smyth / This is Reno)

Keying the defensive effort was the return of 7-0 forward Will Baker, whose two early fouls had landed him on the bench for most of the first half. With Baker and Warren Washington (13points, 5-8, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks) patrolling the paint, the Waves were left with only perimeter choices resulting in 33% shooting for the game.

With Pepperdine on their heels defensively and searching for openings on offense, the home team simply washed over the team from Malibu.

The Pack outscored Pepperdine 32-10 in the first 9:25 of the second stanza, pushing the lead to 67-42 with 10:35 remaining and cruised from there.

“It’s always a blow to lose the head of the ship, but we adjusted and went out there and played for each other,” said Cambridge Jr.

Freshman guard Mike Mitchell Jr. led Pepperdine (2-7) with 12 points, with fellow frosh Houston Mallette chipping in 10–all in the first half.

Next up for the Wolf Pack: Final non-conference road trip at North Texas and UT Arlington.

Notes

  • Forward KJ Hymes played his first game of the season returning from injury and had three points and a pair of rebounds in 14 minutes.
  • Sherfield posted his third career double-double, all of the points-assists variety, finishing with 24 points and 10 assists. He came up just two rebounds shy of a triple double, finishing with eight.
  • The Wolf Pack is 3-0 this season when holding an opponent to under 70 points. Nevada has held each of its past three opponents under the 70-point mark.
  • For the second straight game, Nevada grabbed 44 rebounds. It’s the Pack’s third game this season with at least 40 boards.

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