Story and Photos by Mike Smyth
The Nevada Wolf Pack opened Mountain West Conference play Saturday night at Lawlor Events Center defeating the visiting New Mexico Lobos 79-70.
The Wolf Pack, (7-5, 1-0 MW) began 2022 coming off an impromptu-scheduled trip to Manhattan, Kansas where they fell 88-61 to the sixth-ranked Jayhawks on Dec. 29.
The Pack was originally scheduled to open conference play in the Bay Area last Wednesday, but their date with San Jose State was postponed due to COVID protocols within the Spartans’ program. The loss ended Nevada’s season-best five-game win streak.
The Lobos (7-7, 0-1 MW) defensive strategy to limit Mountain West Preseason Player of the Year Grant Sherfield by any means possible was apparent from the start, and what Nevada will likely face in every contest the rest of the season.
The junior guard from Fort Worth, Texas was double- and triple-teamed any time he took a step toward the rim. Sherfield was held to a pair of made free throws before the break, while notching six assists.
Junior forward Warren Washington kept the Pack hot on the Lobos heels with nine first half points, while matching that total sweeping the glass.
Despite the effects of the Lobos defense limiting them to 38% shooting, the Wolf Pack trailed by only one at the half 36-35.
The second half did not appear to alter the Lobos original strategy, but they simply couldn’t account for the depth and physical defense that head coach Steve Alford hopes becomes the hallmark of this Wolf Pack squad.
“The physicality, especially when you get into league play has got to be there, and I thought we did that tonight,” said Alford
Washington and Will Baker both enjoyed significant height advantages inside and with the smaller Lobos keying on the outside shooters, went to work. Both big men finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds, while Washington made things hazardous for New Mexico inside with four blocks and numerous shots altered.
The twin seven-footers, who are both officially listed as forwards, had a major impact at both ends. Nevada dominated points in the paint 38-22.
New Mexico’s perimeter defense also affected Sherfield’s back court running mate Desmond Cambridge Jr., who, while finishing with a team-high 18 points, launched 20 shots and made just six including 1-for-11 from deep.
After playing from behind most of the first half, Kenan Blackshear (nine points, five rebounds) gave Nevada the lead for good just over a minute into the second half at 40-39, with a driving layup and the ensuing free-throw.
The game remained tight until mid-way through the second half until the Nevada defense fueled a 17-2 run, stretching the lead to their largest of the night at 69-50 with 5:34 remaining.
Alford, who spent six seasons at the helm for New Mexico while compiling a 155-52 record said, “I don’t know if a month ago we could have had those guys (Sherfield, Cambridge Jr.) go 8-for-28 from the field and win that. We had a lot of other guys step up and score and except for the last four minutes defended really well.”
UPDATE: Next up for the Wolf Pack: The match vs. Wyoming at Lawlor Events Center on Tuesday has been postponed due to COVID protocols at Wyoming. The Wolf Pack will travel to San Diego State Jan. 8 and return home to take on Boise State Jan. 12.
- The Wolf Pack is 6-0 this season when holding an opponent to 70 points or less.
- Nevada won the battle on the glass 43-39.
- Nevada had three players with a double-double. Baker (his first), Washington, and Grant Sherfield (10 pts/10 assists).
- Nevada shot 47% in the second half while limiting New Mexico to 30% shooting.
- Sherfield and Cambridge Jr. were a combined 10-11 from the free throw line.
- Head coach Steve Alford is 5-0 vs New Mexico.
- Nevada won for the first time this season when trailing at the half.
Michael Smyth is a writer and photographer who moved to Reno from the Bay Area in 2007. Michael retired from a corporate road-warrior sales career in 2017 where he wrote freelance small-venue music reviews on the side to keep his sanity on the road. When he isn’t covering a concert or sporting event he might be found concocting a salsa recipe, throwing barbless flies in search of trout, or recapturing the skip-and-stop wedge shot of his youth.