Nevada men’s basketball began this year’s Silver State Series with an 86-72 win over intrastate rival UNLV (11-10, 6-2) on Wednesday at Lawlor Events Center.
Wednesday’s win improves Nevada to 12-8 with a 5-3 conference record. Nevada owns a five-game win streak over the Rebels, topping them in seven of the last eight meetings.
Nevada is 8-2 at home this season. The Pack have won 29 of its last 31 conference games at home, including 16 straight.
The Wolf Pack shot 43.1 percent from the floor and 42.3 percent from beyond the arc.
Nevada had four double-digit scorers. Jalen Harris led the team with 28 points on 8-of-16 shooting, including 3-of-5 from three-point range. He added a team-high six assists in 34 minutes. The 6-foot-5 guard has tallied double-digit points in 16 consecutive games, averaging a conference-best 23.0 points per game in conference play (8 games).
Jazz Johnson totaled 19 points — 17 in the second half — on 3-of-7 shooting from deep. Lindsey Drew tallied 15 points on 4-of-7 shooting, tying a team high with six rebounds. Drew was in a cold spell, averaging 4.7 points on 14.3 percent shooting in his last three games heading into Wednesday.
“My teammates encouraged me to just keep my head up,” he said. “I just tried to stay aggressive. It was good seeing a couple shots go in and a few things bounce my way.”
Nisre Zouzoua added 11 points off the bench, shooting 4-of-6 from the floor.
Nevada outpaced UNLV in transition, outscoring them 20-7 in fastbreak opportunities.
Head coach Steve Alford was really impressed with his team’s ability to score in the open floor.
“Teams have taken our transition away and we’ve been trying to stress and work on it,” Alford said. “Getting out in transition, where teams can’t sit at us in half court and fix their defense, is huge. I thought we did a really good job breaking their press and attacking their press and trying to score.”
The Wolf Pack mixed in multiple defensive looks — incorporating a 2-3 zone throughout much of the second half — throughout the contest. UNLV struggled, shooting 35.9 percent from the floor and 28.0 percent from deep.
“I hope our zone helped us. I’ll have to go look at the tape,” Alford said. “[The zone] helped us because when we’re fouling, we need something to go to try to stay out of fouling and I thought that helped us.”
Coming off a career-high 35 points versus New Mexico, UNLV’s Bryce Hamilton displayed another strong scoring punch for the Rebels. He led the Rebels with 26 points on 10-of-23 shooting in 26 minutes.
Amauri Hardy added 23 points, shooting 9-of-15 from the floor and 3-of-8 from deep.
UNLV countered the Pack’s defensive looks with a physical presence on the boards. The Rebels entered Wednesday with the 12th-largest rebounding margin in the nation at plus-8.7. They were incredibly effective in that category tonight, out-rebounding Nevada 44-33.
UNLV out-rebounded Nevada 18-9 on the offensive glass, the Pack’s largest deficit on the offensive glass this season. The Rebels were T-21 across Division-I in offensive rebounding heading into tonight, averaging 13.0 per game.
Nevada shot 29 free throws — its most since the Dec. 18 victory over Texas Southern when they shot 31 — making 25 of them compared to UNLV’s 19.
Alford sets a team-goal each game to outscore its opponents by five at the free throw line, which they did tonight. He was pleased with his team’s ability to get to the line on Wednesday.
“I told the guys in the locker room ‘hey we got to be excited about the win and I love the win, but let’s be more excited that we got our free throw goal,’” Alford said. “It’s our first time in 20 games where we’ve reached that goal.
“It should be a weapon for us because we shoot free throws well. We just have not utilized that free throw line like we need to.”
Back-to-back three-point baskets from Nevada gave them the early 7-2 lead. UNLV struggled early, missing its first seven shots.
The Rebels started clicking, hitting four of its next five baskets. They closed the deficit to 14-10 with 12:56 remaining after a made jumper from Hamilton. The Wolf Pack went on a 9-3 run capped off by a three-pointer from Zouzoua to extend the lead to 23-13.
UNLV closed the final 3:14 of the half on an 8-2 run, cutting Nevada’s deficit to 33-27 heading into halftime.
Nevada shot 36.4 percent — including 5-of-14 from beyond the arc — in the first half. UNLV shot a lowly 24.2 percent, netting only two of its 13 first half three-pointers.
Jazz Johnson’s first three-point shot came 18:14 remaining in the contest, giving the Pack a 36-30 lead. The sharpshooter missed his first six shots.
Back-to-back three-pointers from Harris extended the Pack’s advantage to 49-40. The Wolf Pack extended its lead to 61-49 with 10:52 remaining after a three-pointer from Zouzoua.
The scoring margin hung around 8-12 points for a majority of the half. Harris’ reverse layup extended the Pack lead to 75-59 with 3:56 left, its biggest lead of the game. Nevada closed it out, ending UNLV’s three-game win streak.
Alford has an opportunity to earn win No. 600 versus the New Mexico Lobos, where he totaled a 155-52 (.749) record from 2007-13, leading them to six postseason bids (three NCAA tournaments, three NIT tournaments). Currently in his 29th season, Alford sports a career 599-306 (.662) record in his collegiate coaching career.
Tip off for that game will be at 5 p.m. PST at Lawlor Events Center on Saturday.