Pack learning that defense is key to winning
The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team has learned its lessons quickly this season.
Take Monday night, for example.
“We didn’t feel like our defensive effort was what we wanted it to be the game before,” Pack guard Armon Johnson said of a 77-71 loss at Louisiana Tech last Saturday night.
The Pack came out two nights later on Monday and won at New Mexico State, 77-67, holding high-scoring Aggies guards Jahmar Young and Jonathan Gibson in check.
“We knew we had to step up on defense and force them (Young and Gibson) to take tough shots,” Johnson said.
The Wolf Pack, 9-6 overall and 1-1 in the Western Athletic Conference, will get another big defensive test Saturday night (7:05 p.m.) when San Jose State (8-5, 1-0) and guard Adrian Oliver come to Lawlor Events Center.
“That’s a real talented team,” Johnson said, “one of the most talented teams in the WAC.”
A lot of that talent is packaged in Oliver, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard who, like Johnson, also is strong enough to crash the boards. The junior is averaging 20.8 points a game this year with 6.4 rebounds.
“He’s tough to guard,” said Wolf Pack shooting guard Brandon Fields. “He’s a great player. He rebounds the ball well and he shoots it well. He’s got a lot of moves on offense and he’s one of the top guards in the WAC.”
“I’m glad I don’t have to guard him,” said 6-foot-9 Pack forward Luke Babbitt.
The Wolf Pack, though, didn’t have many problems with Oliver last season. He played two games (one in the WAC tournament) against the Pack at Lawlor Events Center a year ago and averaged just 7.5 points a game. Oliver, who missed the Pack’s game at San Jose State last year because of an ankle injury, shot just 6 of 25 (24 percent) against the Pack in 2008-09.
“You just have to stay attached to him,” said Fields, who needs just seven points Saturday to become the 20th Pack player in history to reach 1,000 in his career. “You have to pay attention to him on every play.”
The Wolf Pack has done a solid job of paying attention on defense ever since an eye-opening 110-104 loss to BYU on Dec. 22 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. Since that game, the Pack has held Tulsa, Portland, Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State to an average of 70.2 points a game. BYU scored 64 in the second half alone.
BYU also shot 63.3 percent from the field against the Pack, but Portland, Tulsa, Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State all shot under 48 % against Nevada.
“The problem against BYU was that we didn’t play good team defense,” Pack head coach David Carter said. “We were just concerned with guarding our guy and not playing team defense. We gave up too many easy baskets.”
Carter said it will take another solid team effort to stop Oliver.
“He can play the one (point guard) or the two (shooting guard) and he can score so well,” Carter said. “To stop a guy like that you have to play team defense and make every shot tough for him.”
The Pack did just that on Monday against Young and Gibson, holding them to 14 points below their combined scoring average.
“Against those good perimeter guys you have to stay attached to them and make them get inside the (3-point) arc,” Carter said.
Carter called the Pack’s win over New Mexico State “our biggest game of the year.” The victory accomplished three important things — it evened the Pack’s WAC record at 1-1, gave them a big road WAC win and it was the Pack’s first win on the opponent’s home floor this year.
“It was huge,” Carter said.
“It wasn’t like it was a monkey on our back but it was good to win on the road,” Babbitt said. “We didn’t look at it like we had some road jinx. We just didn’t play good basketball on the road.”
That has certainly not been the problem at Lawlor Events Center.
The Pack, which has won 14 of its last 15 games against San Jose State, has been perfect (7-0) at home this year and has won 93 of its last 110 games at Lawlor since the start of the 2003-04 season.
“I’ve always said it,” Carter said. “You have to take care of your home games because it is so hard to win on the road. So when teams come in here we can’t give any games away.”