Nevada drops Rainbows to second place in WAC
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
RENO, Nev. In a city where fortunes are more often lost than won, the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team busted last night.
University of Hawai'i center Haim Shimonovich takes a rebound away from Nevada's Matt Ochs.
Hawai'i fell to 23-5 overall and 14-3 in the WAC. Tulsa defeated Rice last night to move into first place with a 15-3 conference record.
"We still have 23 wins and we're still a good team," UH head coach Riley Wallace said. "We just got beat. Duke got beat tonight, too. But we're still there. We still have a lot to work for."
Indeed, the 'Bows did not place all their chips on last night's game. Hawai'i will close the regular season at Fresno State tomorrow. A UH victory would still clinch a share of the WAC regular-season title, and the top seed for next week's WAC Tournament at Tulsa, Okla.
However, the 'Bows need to heal their wounded pride, and the back of star guard Predrag Savovic.
Hawai'i played virtually the entire second half without Savovic, who crumpled to the court with muscle spasms in his lower back moments after halftime.
"Savo didn't beat us by not being in there," Wallace said. "It didn't make that much of a difference because he wasn't playing well."
Savovic, who was averaging 20.1 points per game prior to last night, was limited to five points all in the first half. It was the first time all season that he did not reach double-figures in points. He played 22 minutes, but just four in the second half.
But Wallace insisted that the biggest difference was Nevada's aggressive quickness on both offense and defense.
"A team that has as much quickness as they have, and they still out-hustle and out-work you, is going to win," Wallace said.
The Wolf Pack was especially effective at defending UH's normally lethal perimeter shooting. The 'Bows made just six 3-pointers in 23 attempts (.261 percentage) in their worst shooting performance in more than a month.
"Their defense was into us and we played scared," Wallace said. "We've never acted like that before in our offense. They just took us out of everything we wanted to do."
The defining moment of the game came midway through the first half when Nevada took control with an 18-0 run. At the start of the surge, Hawai'i held a 19-14 lead with 9:09 remaining in the half. By the end of it, the Wolf Pack led, 32-19 with 3:46 left.
During the scoring drought that lasted 5 minutes, 23 seconds, the 'Bows went 11 consecutive possessions without a basket. Four of those possessions ended with UH turnovers.
"They pushed us out to center court and we couldn't get into our offense," Wallace said.
Hawai'i closed the half with a 10-3 run of its own to cut the Wolf Pack halftime lead to 35-29.
The 'Bows cut it to 43-38 with 15:47 remaining in the game, but could never get any closer. Nevada led by as many as 14 in the second half, and then made 10 of 12 free throws in the final two minutes to seal the victory.
"It was a combination of a couple things," Nevada head coach Trent Johnson said. "Savo was hurt and he's a big key to that group. And I think we played defense as well as we've played in the last three or four games."
With the outside failing, the 'Bows went inside. Sophomore forward Phil Martin finished with a team-high 19 points and seven rebounds. He scored 14 in the second half, but fouled out with 3:36 remaining in the game, all but sealing UH's fate.
"We're a shooting team and we weren't shooting it like we normally do," Wallace said. "We got some scoring in the post, but we're the kind of team that needs to have more than just that."
Sophomore center Haim Shimonovich added 11 points and 12 rebounds, while sophomore guard/forward Carl English contributed 16 points and seven rebounds.
Still, they were no match for the Wolf Pack, who had four players finish with double-figure points. Freshman forward Kirk Snyder led the way with 22 points, followed by Terrance Green with 14, Kevinn Pinkney with 12, and Corey Jackson with 10. Jackson also proved his worth as the WAC's leading rebounder with 17.
"We were prepared for what they had," Jackson said. "We know they like to shot-fake and then shoot 3s. We prepared for that all week."
Wallace said the 'Bows were also prepared defensively, but could not stop the one-on-one penetrations of Snyder and Green.
"I have no idea what happened to our defense," Wallace said. "We worked on it and knew they were going to try and take us off the dribble. We just didn't challenge them and they were taking us off the dribble every time, every one of them."
Nevada shot 45 percent (26-of-58) overall, compared to Hawai'i's 38 percent (24-of-63). Led by the 6-foot-7 Jackson, the Wolf Pack also out-rebounded Hawai'i, 45-38.
Nevada, which had its worst performance of the season in a 58-40 loss at Hawai'i on Dec. 29, improved to 16-11 overall and 9-8 in the WAC.
"We looked like they did in Hawai'i," Wallace said. "The travel in the WAC is difficult, but it hasn't affected us until tonight. We just played sluggish."
OTHER WAC GAMES
Fresno State 72, San Jose State 60: Melvin Ely scored 21 points and Damon Jackson added 15 and grabbed 11 rebounds as Fresno State beat San Jose State at Fresno, Calif.
Ely was 7 of 12 from the floor and grabbed seven rebounds to lead the Bulldogs (18-12, 9-8 WAC). The Spartans (8-21, 3-14 WAC) were led by Phil Calvert's 15 points.
Tulsa 67, Rice 62: Kevin Johnson scored 21 points and Omar-Seli Mance added 19 to lead Tulsa (24-5, 15-3) to victory over Rice (10-18, 5-13) in Houston.
Tulsa shot 52 percent from the field, hitting 11 of 21 shots, while Rice shot 38 percent, hitting 11 of 29.
Louisiana Tech 80, Boise St. 67: Marco Cole and Michael Wilder scored 19 points apiece and Gerrod Henderson added 17 as visiting Louisiana Tech (19-8, 13-4) defeated Boise State (11-16, 5-12).
SMU 63, Texas-El Paso 61: Damon Hancock (24) and Quinton Ross combined for 46 points to lead SMU (15-12, 10-7) over host Texas-El Paso (10-20, 3-14).