RENO — The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team wants nothing more than to establish its dominance at Lawlor Events Center once again.
“These games are huge for us,” said sophomore forward Cole Huff of home games at Lawlor today (7:05 p.m.) against the Chattanooga Mocs and Sunday (3:05 p.m.) against the Morehead State Eagles.
“Home games are big,” coach David Carter said. “It’s a chance to build some momentum. These two games are very important.”
The Wolf Pack was nearly unbeatable at home two seasons ago, going 16-2 at Lawlor on its way to a 28-7 record. The Wolf Pack was 147-33 at home from 2001-02 through the 20011-12 season for a winning percentage of .817. Last year, though, the Pack slumped to just 10-7 at home, losing six of its last eight home games and fell to a disappointing 12-19 overall. The 10-7 (.588) record last year at Lawlor was the Pack’s worst at home since it went 6-7 at Lawlor in 1999-2000.
The home woes then carried over to this year when the Wolf Pack (2-2 overall) opened the season with an 80-78 loss to Pacific at Lawlor Events Center on Nov. 8.
“It’s all about our defensive intensity,” Pack point guard Deonte Burton said. “Our rebounding, as well. We can’t keep giving teams second chances. We have to keep it to one and done. And we haven’t been able to do that at home. Hopefully that changes this weekend.”
The games against Chattanooga and Morehead State are part of the Las Vegas Invitational. The Pack will head to Las Vegas next week to conclude the tournament against UCLA (Nov. 28) and Missouri (Nov. 29). After Sunday the Pack won’t return home until it meets Omaha on Dec. 14.
“You have to win your home games,” Carter said. “We want to go into next week (against UCLA and Missouri) with a winning record.”
The Wolf Pack is coming off a disappointing 74-66 loss at Bakersfield. The Pack was whistled for 32 fouls as three players (Jerry Evans, Ali Fall and D.J. Fenner) fouled out. Bakersfield was also whistled for 27 fouls.
A new NCAA rule this season, which prevents hand checking on defense when guarding players who are attacking the basket, has been the biggest reason for all of the fouls, Carter said.
“We just have to get used to it,” Carter said. “We have to adjust.”
Bakersfield was 28-of-40 from the free throw line while the Pack was 21-of-28.
“For the most part, they called it both ways,” said Huff, who is averaging 12.3 points and 4.8 rebounds this year. “I don’t like the rule. It slows the game down. It takes away from the skills that players have. Now, when you got a guy that can’t shoot that well, all he has to do is drive to the basket and he can get to the line. We just have to be smarter and then go make our free throws.”
Huff is correct when he says the calls have been going both ways. The Wolf Pack has been called for 87 fouls this year while their opponents have been called for 88. Both the Pack and their opponents have attempted 101 free throws.
The averages of 43.8 fouls and 50.5 free throws in Pack games this year are both up from a year ago. Last year the average Pack game involved 37.9 fouls and 44.1 free throws.
“The new rule has made a big difference,” said Burton, who leads the Wolf Pack at 25.0 points a game. “You can’t be as aggressive defensively. When a guy drives to the basket you have to kind of back off a little or else you are going to get called for a foul. The games are becoming a free throw contest.”
Carter said he was satisfied with the Pack’s 2-1 road trip that included two-point victories at Cal Poly and San Francisco before the loss at Bakersfield.
“It’s a tall task to win three games in a row on the road,” said Carter, whose team has already equaled its win total (two) on the road from last year. “We could have easily gone 0-3 so I’m pleased with 2-1. It was a good trip for us. We competed in all the games.”
Carter said that the Pack’s non-league schedule to begin the season is all about building confidence coming off last year’s collapse.
“After last year we have to get our confidence back,” said Carter, who saw his team lose 15 of its last 18 games last season. “Going on the road and winning two of three games did a lot to get our confidence back.”
Burton, who is playing 38.5 minutes a games, said he is looking for the Pack to continue to improve.
“We’re not quite there yet, just from a defensive standpoint,” Burton said. “But we’re learning everyday. We’re still three or four rebounds and three or four defensive stops each game from being the team I know we can be.”
Chattanooga, of the Southern Conference, is 2-2 this season. The Mocs have gone over 100 points in a game twice this year already and are led by 6-foot-4 sophomore Gee McGhee, who averages 17.5 points, 3.0 assists and 2.5 steals. Casey Jones (6-5) adds 11.3 points, Z. Mason (6-6) has averaged 13.0 points and 6-1 guard Grey Pryor scores at a 11.5 clip. Mason also pulls down 8.3 rebounds a game.
Morehead State, of the Ohio Valley Conference, is 4-1. The Eagles’ Angelo Warner, a 6-2 guard, averages 17.0 points and 5.6 rebounds. Bakari Turner (6-4, senior) averages 13,.6 points and 6-3 sophomore Brent Arrington averages 12,.2 points. Chad Posthumus, a 6-11 senior, averages 9.8 points and 11.8 rebounds. Guard Kareem Story (5-10 junior) averages 7.2 assists a game.
The Eagles, who play at UCLA on Friday night, are coached by former Kentucky point guard Sean Woods. Woods played at Kentucky from 1989-92 for head coach Rick Pitino and played a big part in the Wildcats’ 104-103 loss to the Duke Blue Devils in the 1992 East Regional finals. Woods scored to give Kentucky a 103-102 lead in overtime before Duke’s Christian Laettner hit a last-second shot for the stunning victory in one of the greatest games in college basketball history.