The last time the Nevada Wolf Pack beat UNLV in basketball, Nick
Fazekas was in his junior year, that same night saw a resurgent Nevada
Wolf Pack football team upset Fresno St. to grab a share of the WAC
title, and MWC leading scorer Deonte Burton was in 8th grade.
The following week Nevada went into Allen Fieldhouse and beat Kansas,
earning Fazekas a few choice F bombs from a Jayhawk assistant coach.
Deonte Burton might have elicited a few of the same from many of the
Rebel faithful himself last night. The senior point guard was nearly
unguardable as Nevada beat UNLV by a, not as close as it looks, score
of 74-71. Burton's alley-oop dunk off a pass from Marqueze Coleman with
5 minutes remaining, put the Wolf Pack up by 14 and sent a large part
of the scarlett and grey clad crowd scrambling for the exits of the
Thomas and Mack amidst gasps, ooohs and ahhhhs.
Burton finished with 29 points and, aside from the 5 minutes he was off
the court in the 1st half, seemed to be able to get points in a variety
of ways whenever he wanted against a mis-matched Rebel backcourt.
The scouting report on Nevada the past few seasons has been "stop or
slow Burton" and you should beat Nevada handily. Nevada's lack of post
play and a supporting cast for Burton has largely made that an
effective strategy. However, this season David Carter has figurately
left no stone unturned trying to remake the Nevada roster to take some
of the pressure off of Burton. Up until A.J. West became eligible 4
games ago, that appeared to be failing as Nevada fell to a dismal 5-8
at the end of non-conference play.
West has been nothing short of outstanding the past 3 games, averaging
over 2 points per possession (a really good average is about 1.2 PPP),
9.6 points per game and 8 rebounds. Where West's contribution has
really made a difference is in Nevada's lowly interior defense where
he's averaging 2.2 blocks per game; but that stat doesn't begin to tell
the whole story of the jolt that A.J. has given to the Wolf Pack
In the first 13 games of the season, leading up to West's first game
back, Nevada's opponents were averaging 80 points per game, 1.15 points
per possession and a 55.4% effective field goal percentage. Over the
past 3 games, since conference play began, those averages have dropped
to 60 points per game, .99 points per possession and an effective field
goal percentage of 41.3% (which is outstanding). UNLV had one of the
best defensive effective field goal percentages of any team in the
country at 42.8%.
UNLV has outstanding post players in Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith and
West, along with a still-learning-the-game Ali Fall did an admirable
job keeping those two players from dominating post. Most of their
damage was done from the free throw line in a unevenly called game that
saw UNLV shoot 30 free throws to Nevada's 15.
Over shadowed by the fantastic play of Burton, but not to be
overlooked, was the play of UTEP transfer Michael Perez. Perez provided
a deadly combination to Burton's haymakers, scoring from the perimeter
as well as off of back door cut plays called the "blind pig". Perez is
the third leading scorer on the team behind Jerry Evans Jr. Perez and
Evans are two of the kinds of players every team needs, players willing
to do all the little bits of dirty work that it takes to win, play
defense, rebound, screen, etc.
Evans has been in a definite shooting slump of late, but he played
solid defense against the Rebels, rebounded and gave Nevada a big lift
at the end of the 1st half, taking a pass from a double teamed Burton
and slashing the lane for a monster dunk to bring Nevada within 2 going
into the locker room. That capped an 11-2 run to end the first half;
that momentum continued into the 2nd as the Wolf Pack opened the final
20 minutes on a, 11-0 run, holding the Rebels scoreless over a 7 minute
The win puts Nevada alone atop the Mountain West Conference standings
at 3-0 with 15 games still to play. There is a lot more basketball to
be played, and there are many tougher games still to come, namely this
Saturday against 11-3 Utah St.; but by all visible and statistical
measures, Nevada appears to be a different, more dangerous team, headed
into the 2nd half of the 2013-14 season.