Pack shows resolve, wins ugly vs. Bulldogs
David Carter is watching his Nevada Wolf Pack grow right before his eyes.
“We played an ugly game and still won,” said the Wolf Pack coach after a 66-58 victory over the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs Saturday night at Lawlor Events Center. “Earlier in the year when we played ugly, we didn’t win. Now we’re able to win it. That’s a sign of maturity.”
The Wolf Pack rallied from a 33-28 halftime deficit to earn its first three-game winning streak since last March.
“But we can’t be satisfied,” sophomore Malik Story said. “We’re happy we got the win but we know we have to play better than this.”
The Pack, now 7-13 overall and 4-3 in the Western Athletic Conference, isn’t surprised it has compiled almost as many victories in the last eight days (three) as it had in the first nine weeks of the season (four).
“These are just games we should win,” said guard Deonte Burton of the victories over Boise State on the road and New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech at home.
The Pack opened Saturday’s game as if they were still celebrating the 90-71 victory over New Mexico State just 48 hours earlier.
“We came out real slow,” Story said.
“We didn’t have any energy in the first half at either end of the floor,” Burton said.
“We just weren’t ready,” center Dario Hunt said. “We were on our heels the whole first half.”
Carter spent the bulk of the opening half trying to inject some life into his listless team. He emptied his bench, playing a dozen players, 10 of which played six minutes or more.
“I was just trying to find a combination that would give us a spark,” Carter said. “I just couldn’t find it.”
Louisiana Tech’s Olu Ashaolu provided all of the sparks in the first 20 minutes, scoring 19 points and pulling down 11 rebounds. The 6-foot-7 junior converted 8-of-14 shots and also had four offensive rebounds.
“He came out ready tonight,” Hunt said. “He hit a lot of tough shots and he also hit some easy shots. Once a guy like that gets going, it’s tough to stop him.”
Ashaolu scored 19 of the Bulldogs’ first 28 points. He wrestled the ball away from two Pack players under the basket and scored for a 28-23 Louisiana Tech lead with 2:22 to go in the half.
“Dario played a little soft on him in the first half,” Carter said. “I don’t think he (Hunt) was trying to avoid getting into foul trouble. I think it went back to the fact that we just didn’t come out with any energy. We let him (Ashaolu) get too many easy shots.”
That all ended in the second half.
Ashaolu took just five shots and scored just seven points in the second half. The Bulldogs’ center, who finished with a game-high 26 points and 17 rebounds, took a beating in the second half, including an elbow from a teammate on the defensive end that opened up a small cut under his right eye.
“We played much better on him in the second half,” Hunt said.
The Pack offense also came alive in the second half. Story hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 37-37 with just under 18 minutes left and Olek Czyz hit from downtown for a 40-39 lead with 16:15 to go. Story and Derrell Conner then hit short jumpers for a 50-43 lead with just under 10 minutes to play.
“We picked up our energy level in the second half,” said Burton, who had 18 points and six assists in just 26 minutes. “The coaches told us (at halftime) that we had to pick it up. We used that as motivation.”
Jordan Burris, who played just nine minutes, had a three-pointer for a 53-45 lead and a layup for a 57-45 lead with 7:32 left.
“Jordan gave us some very good minutes,” Carter said. “A lot of players contributed to this win.”
The Bulldogs, who are still looking for their first WAC win (9-12, 0-7), trimmed the Pack lead to just 57-54 with a 9-0 run. DeAndre Brown had a pair of three-pointers and Ashaolu, who sat out three minutes while the cut under his eye was being looked at, had a dunk to cap off the run with 4:37 to go.
The Pack, though, picked up its energy level once again and dominated the final four minutes.
Burton hit a trifecta for a 60-54 lead and Hunt drained six consecutive free throws down the stretch to put the game away. The Pack also held the Bulldogs, now losers of eight in a row, to just four points in the final 4:37.
“It was ugly,” smiled Carter. “But I was nervous about this game. We were coming off a huge win (against New Mexico State on Thursday) and players are players. They know Louisiana Tech was 0-6 in the league coming into this game. So we kind of played to the level of the competition rather than playing at our level.”