The Nevada Wolf Pack turned in its worst performance in a postseason conference tournament in over a decade on Wednesday.
The UNLV Rebels dominated down the stretch to trounce the Wolf Pack 67-46 in a first-round Mountain West tournament game in front of a crowd of 7,458 at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. UNLV outscored the Pack 23-6 over the final eight minutes to hand Nevada its most one-sided loss in a postseason conference tournament since a 90-68 loss to Hawaii in the Western Athletic Conference tournament on March 8, 2002.
The Wolf Pack not only lost a game on Wednesday. It also lost its coach. Nevada athletic director Doug Knuth announced after the game that head coach David Carter would not return next year.
“It’s one of the toughest days of the year,” Wolf Pack guard D.J. Fenner said. “I felt like we were going to end it the right way. I really don’t feel like we gave it our all today.”
The Wolf Pack, which is now 0-3 in Mountain West tournament games since joining the conference in 2012-13, ends its season with a 9-22 record. The last time the Pack won under 10 games in a season was 1999-00 when it finished 9-20. The last time the team lost as many as 22 games was 1971-72 when it finished 2-24.
“This season wasn’t what anyone really expected,” said Carter, who saw his team lose 14 of its last 17 games.
The Wolf Pack all but handed the tournament game to the Rebels, turning the ball over 20 times.
“We weren’t careful with the ball,” Wolf Pack center A.J. West said.
“I think we just rushed it,” said Fenner, who had six of the turnovers. “We weren’t strong with the ball.”
Carter explained the sloppy play as simply a case of a team trying to do too much.
“The guys were trying to win the game instead of letting the game come to them,” Carter said.
UNLV scored 21 points off the Wolf Pack turnovers. The Wolf Pack didn’t score a single point off UNLV’s six turnovers.
“The biggest key to the game was trying to pressure them and force turnovers,” said UNLV coach Dave Rice, whose Rebels (18-14) will face San Diego State on Thursday at 6 p.m. “Our energy level was fantastic.”
The Wolf Pack, which shot just 28 percent (15-of-52) for the game, missed its first six shots and didn’t score for the first three-plus minutes of the game. Fortunately for the Wolf Pack, though, UNLV also started slow. The Pack actually went on a 9-2 run and took a 9-6 lead five minutes into the game on a 3-pointer by Eric Cooper. The Pack scored those nine points (Cooper had five, Tyron Criswell and A.J. West each had two) in just 93 seconds.
Criswell, who had eight points and 11 rebounds, also had a layup for a 12-11 Pack lead with just over 12 minutes to play in the half. That would turn out to be the Pack’s last lead of the game as Jordan Cornish hit back-to-back 3-pointers less than two minutes apart to give the Rebels an 18-14 lead with eight minutes to go in the half.
A dunk by West (nine points, 18 rebounds, four blocks) cut the Rebels’ lead to just 20-16 with 5:38 left in the half. The Pack then scored just one point the rest of the half as UNLV took a 27-17 lead at the break. The Pack turned the ball over six times and was 0-for-5 from the floor in the final five minutes of the half. Again, the Pack was fortunate that UNLV also struggled to finish the half. The Rebels’ final points of the half came on a jumper by Dwayne Morgan with 2:59 to go.
UNLV ended up outscoring the Pack 16-5 over the final 12 minutes of the first half. Goodluck Okonoboh had a dunk for a 22-16 Rebel lead with five minutes to go and Patrick McCaw hit a key 3-pointer for a 25-16 lead with four minutes left.
“We shared the ball.” Rice said. “We were together.”
Once again, though, the Pack came out of its locker room after halftime and struggled to score. The Pack scored just two points in the first four minutes of the second half as UNLV built a 33-19 lead.
The Wolf Pack, though, came alive midway through the second half to make things interesting.
The Wolf Pack went on an 11-2 run to slice UNLV’s lead to just 36-32 with 12 minutes to play. West had a layup, Marqueze Coleman had a 3-pointer and two free throws and Fenner had a layup and two free throws as the Pack got back in the game.
“We just got flat in the middle of the game.” Cornish said.
A 3-pointer by Cooper cut the UNLV lead to just 40-37 with 10:24 to play.
“The guys competed and fought very hard,” Carter said.
A free throw by Coleman trimmed UNLV’s lead to 44-40 with 8:52 left.
The Wolf Pack offense, though, then disappeared for the rest of the game.
The Pack would score just six more points over the final eight-plus minutes as UNLV took control. Wood hit a pair of jumpers inside just 35 seconds apart as UNLV took a 49-42 lead with 6:44 left. Jelan Kendrick connected for a 3-pointer and a 52-42 lead with 6:09 to play and Cornish had a 3-pointer for a 55-42 lead with 5:43 to go. A 3-point play by Wood with 4:10 to go gave the Rebels a commanding 59-43 lead.
The 6-foot-11 Wood finished with 28 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. He was 9-of-13 from the floor and 10-of-13 from the free throw line.
“When he’s engaged like he was today we’re a good basketball team,” Rice said.
“This game he really stepped up,” said Carter of Wood. “In our first two games against him he kind of stayed outside. In this game he went inside. He was the difference.”
“Coach kept calling the play for me,” Wood said. “I just kept executing it.”
The Wolf Pack’s big man, West, was 3-of-11 from the floor and turned the ball over three times. West, though, did have 18 rebounds, 12 on the offensive end. But he missed a half dozen or so layups.
“I didn’t do the best job at finishing,” West said. “It rubbed off onto my teammates.”
Nobody in silver and blue shot the ball well. Criswell was also 3-of-11 and Fenner was 3-of-10. Cooper was 3-of-8 and led the Pack with 10 points.
“That’s been one of our Achilles’ heels this year,” Carter said. “Not finishing inside. We missed a lot of easy baskets.”