The Nevada Wolf Pack is ready to start the regular season.
“I’m excited to get the taste of last season out of our mouths,” senior center A.J. West said.
“It’s time,” junior guard D.J. Fenner said. “We’re extremely confident and we’re ready to go.”
The Wolf Pack wrapped up its two-game exhibition season Friday night with a convincing 84-53 win over the Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks in front of a crowd of 3,543 at Lawlor Events Center. The Pack, which beat Dominican 82-52 last Friday in their first exhibition, will open the regular season Nov. 13-17 with three games in the Outrigger Resorts Rainbow Classic in Honolulu. “We wanted our players to feel good about themselves and to feel confident going into the Hawaii tournament,” Pack coach Eric Musselman said. “We accomplished that in these exhibition games. This team likes each other and we have good chemistry going into the beginning of the season.”
The Wolf Pack dominated the Nanooks from the Division II Great Northwest Athletic Conference, leading by at least 10 points over the final 32 minutes. The Pack led 40-21 at halftime and never let Alaska get closer than 17 in the second half. “Anytime you compete, you compete to win,” Musselman said. “We have a great deal of respect for every opponent. You hear about Division I teams losing to Division II teams all the time. If you don’t come to play you are going to get smacked.”
The Wolf Pack did all the smacking on Friday as Musselman played nine players 13 or more minutes each. A.J. West had 10 points, four blocks and 13 rebounds, D.J. Fenner had 18 points and three steals, freshman Cameron Oliver had a game-high 19 points, eight rebounds and four blocks and sophomore Eric Cooper had 12 points. Freshman Juwan Anderson had a team-high five assists in 13 minutes off the bench and senior Marqueze Coleman contributed seven points, four assists, three steals and four rebounds. “The guys should all feel real good about their game,” Musselman said.
The combination of the 6-9 West and 6-8 Oliver produced 29 points, 21 rebounds and eight blocks. “We need those two guys to play together,” Musselman said. “I’ve been real hard on them. I’m sure there have been times in practice when they just roll their eyes at me. That combination (West and Oliver) hasn’t been pretty at times in practice. But they did a nice job tonight.”
West was just 1-of-7 from the field but did convert 8-of-10 free throws. Oliver was 9-of-12 from the floor with a combination of crowd-pleasing dunks and mid-range jumpers. “He’s been great,” West said of Oliver. “It’s great to have somebody out there with me to take some of the load off my back. Offensively he brings attention (from defenses) and that leaves me open.”
“When we’re on the same page I feel we can be one of the best duos around on defense,” Oliver said.
The Wolf Pack was 6-of-20 on 3-pointers after making just 1-of-13 a week ago against Dominican. The Pack also shot 46 percent (28-of-61) from the floor, about 10 percentage points higher than the Dominican game. “Our shooting is improved,” Musselman said with a smile. “We made more than one three.”
Fenner was 7-of-10 from the floor and made 2-of-4 3-pointers. “About three weeks ago D.J. had a horrible hitch in his shot so we’ve been working with him a lot,” Musselman said. “And then one day he came in and the hitch was gone.”
Fenner had eight points in the first half and 10 in the second half. He was 4-of-5 from the floor in the second half, making all four of his shots inside the 3-point line. “I’m loving the style of play this year, filling lane and taking good shots,” Fenner said. “We’re not just standing around.”
Although the Pack averaged 83 points a game in the two exhibitions, Musselman is most happy with his team’s defense right now. Alaska shot just 23 per cent (17-of-73) for the game and missed 22-of-27 3-pointers. “In both exhibition games we’ve done a great job defensively,” Musselman said. “We’re playing so hard.”
The Wolf Pack out-rebounded the Nanooks 52-43 but an area of concern after the game was Alaska’s 21 offensive rebounds. Elijah Foster (seven rebounds) and Lucas Stivrins (six) complemented West and Oliver on the boards. “We’re a real good rebounding team,” Musselman said. “We’re a good defensive team. Our offense will come along slowly but surely.”
Alaska shot just 21 percent (7-of-34) in the first half. The Nanooks then missed 13of-15 3-pointers in the second half. “Since we struggle to shoot the ball on offense we have to D-up on every single possession,” Musselman said. “If we don’t play hard on defense on every single possession we will have zero chance of winning any Mountain West games.”
The Wolf Pack, which finished 9-22 last season, will now see if they can win some non-conference Division I games. While in Honolulu next week they will play Coastal Carolina on Nov. 13, Montana State on Nov. 15 and host school Hawaii on Nov. 17. The Pack will also play at Pacific on Nov. 21 before returning to Lawlor Events Center to meet Portland State on Nov. 25.
“It’s a different culture this year,” West said. “You can just see it on everybody’s faces. We all get up and cheer when somebody scores and when somebody comes out of the game. It’s great.”