The Nevada Wolf Pack tip-off a four-game-in-seven-day stretch on the road with intrastate rival UNLV on Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nev.
UNLV is fresh off a dominant 88-74 win over the Colorado State Rams, one of the best teams in the Mountain West, ending its 13-game home win streak that dated back to the end of last season. Nevada, however, is on the complete end of the spectrum morale-wise; Utah State eviscerated the Wolf Pack over the weekend, 78-49, thwarting any plan of a Nevada win within the game’s first 15 minutes.
The Rebels currently sit at 12-9 with a 4-4 Mountain West record. They are No. 117 in the NET Rankings (in Quad 1 or 2 games) and No. 104 in the KenPom rankings. Nevada is a 0.5 game back of them in the standings at 3-4 with an even 9-9 record for the season., though they dropped to No. 134 in the NET Rankings and No. 123 in KenPom with a similar track record in Quad 1 or 2 games (2-8).
It bears mentioning Nevada’s recent success in the West Coast rivalry — the Wolf Pack have won eight straight and 11 of their last 13 against their aforementioned foe.
Can Nevada get back on track and ultimately make it nine straight against its rival down south? Let’s dig into the matchup and find out!
Matchup: Nevada (9-9, 3-4) vs. UNLV (12-9, 4-4)
When: Tuesday, Feb. 1 at 7:30 p.m. PT
Where: Thomas & Mack in Las Vegas, Nev.
TV/Online: Fox Sports 1 || foxsports.com
Spread: UNLV -1.5
Money line: Nevada +110, UNLV -130
Last Meeting: Nevada won 72-62 (Feb. 2, 2021)
Matchup History: UNLV leads 50-27
Neither team ranks in the top-100 nationally in either offense or defense, per KenPom, though both can rack up steals (UNLV 7.8% steal rate - 38th; Nevada 8.0% - 49th); UNLV has also been good at taking care of the ball (17.1 turnover rate; 67th) while Nevada has been a good free-throw shooting team (75.4%; 55th).
UNLV guard Bryce Hamilton was named the Mountain West player of the week after his remarkable career performance against Colorado State.
He notched a career-high 45 points on 13-of-22 shooting, including 8-of-14 from beyond the arc — destroying his previous career best of 35 points (against New Mexico in 2019-20) — for one of the best MWC performances in recent memory.
On the season, Hamilton leads the conference in scoring (21.0 ppg), field goal makes (176) and field goal attempts (409) — equating to a 43.9 field goal percentage — including 36.2 percent from 3-point range with a 54.5 true-shooting percentage. He’s also averaging 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists and a steal per game across 21 contests.
For the second straight game, UNLV might be without the team’s only other double-digit scorer, Donovan Williams, who is doubtful with a knee injury, per CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein. On the season, he’s posted 13.9 points on 49.2 percent shooting, including a team-high 43.6 percent from distance (on 2.9 attempts).
That means the Royce Hamm, who’s third in scoring (8.5 ppg) role will be magnified, as well as Joey Baker’s and Mike Nuga’s.
Hamm’s been a capable 3-point shooter, though he doesn’t attempt many — canning 41.4 percent of his 1.4 triple tries per contest. Baker’s had a tough year shooting the ball from distance (25.0%), while Nuga’s struggled shooting of late, too, hitting just 27.6 percent of his 3s over his last 10 games after knocking them down down 35.3 percent clip over his first 10.
Nevada guard Grant Sherfield has unquestionably held the reign as Nevada’s most potent on-ball threat this year, posting 18.3 points and 6.2 assists on 53.8 percent true-shooting. But after its 29-point loss against the Aggies — a game in which he had one of the worst performances of his career, totaling just four points on 1-of-12 shooting — Nevada head coach Steve Alford said Sherfield was battling a “very sore foot” injury with an unknown timetable.
That isn’t the only injury the team’s battling.
The Wolf Pack might also be without top shot-blocker Warren Washington for the second consecutive game after suffering a hand injury six minutes into its Jan. 25 game against Colorado State. Will Baker, a former teammate of Williams and Hamm at Texas, and K.J. Hymes are going to receive a majority — if not all — of the minutes at the 5 again.
Baker’s tallying 11.6 points with 5.5 rebounds, shooting 56.4 percent from the floor and 45.0 percent from beyond the arc. If Sherfield is absent, Desmond Cambridge Jr., the team’s second leading scorer in the backcourt at 15.6 points per game on 42.9/32.7/69.0 shooting splits, as well as Kenan Blackshear (7.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and Daniel Foster (2.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg) will be relied upon to handle lead ball-handling responsibilities.
No matter how inconsistent they’ve been throughout the season — which is very — the Wolf Pack aren’t the team you, I or anyone else saw against Utah State. Alford was right, to an extent — there wasn’t many more things that could’ve gone wrong. You name it — missed rotations, lackluster transition defense, missed layups — it probably went haywire, which has been relatively uncommon in the Alford era. As a coach and as a group, collectively, you just hope that doesn’t spiral into something worse — especially when you enter a four-game-in-seven day stretch with three of those away from home. It begins on Tuesday; they’re looking to bounce back against a UNLV team coming off one of its best wins of the season and, frankly, one of the biggest upsets across the Mountain West. Does that mean there’s going to be a Runnin’ Rebel Vegas hangover? *shrug* Nevada 74, UNLV 73 (Season record: 13-5)