Nevada’s perimeter attack couldn’t counter USC’s paint presence as the Pac-12 visitors took a 76-66 game Saturday at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.
Led by 6-foot-11 senior forward Nick Rakocevic, USC gave the Pack all it can handle in the paint. The Trojans shot 45 percent from field and added 42 points in the paint. Rakocevic finished with a team-high 24 points and 10 rebounds.\
“We just got beat too badly in the paint,” head coach Steve Alford said. “We did not have any answer for around the rim. They got easy baskets in the paint, we didn’t. I thought that was the difference.
The Wolf Pack, 2-2, shot just 32 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range on a season-high 36 attempts — two away from tying the school record. Nevada committed just 11 turnovers and only lost the rebounding battle by four, but several contested shots fueled USC’s offense.
Alford emphasized a better offensive gameplan against the Trojans.
“We had a lot of guys tonight take bad shots,” he said. “We weren’t patient enough. It wasn’t because we were turning the ball over, so it was bad shot transition. … Bad shots usually mean bad transition defense and that’s what happened.”
Nevertheless, Alford appeared impressed by his first Wolf Pack squad.
“It’s early and we’re a young team,” he said. “It’s not a lack of effort or them trying. They just need to listen and figure out offensively the difference between a good shot and a bad shot.”
Jazz Johnson scored a season-high 26 points off the bench on 6-of-14 shooting from 3-point range. His six-made 3-pointers marked a new career-high. Lindsey Drew had 12 points, six rebounds and nine assists. Jalen Harris chipped in with nine points on 3-of-19 shooting.
No matter when Johnson enters the game, his mindset stays the same. The senior guard had a pair of 4-point plays to help cut the Pack’s deficit.
“That’s always my kind of role no matter where I’m at,” he said. “I try to bring that energy or spark to the team. Tonight, I happened to do that but it wasn’t enough, so we need to go back to the drawing board.”
Nevada cut its deficit to six points late in the second half, but the Trojans answered back with a 11-6 run over the final five minutes to secure the win.
The starting five was switched up against the lanky Trojans with Robby Robinson, Harris, Johncarlos Reyes, Drew and Zouzoua taking the floor.
USC jumped out to a 13-5 lead early in the first half. Johnson’s back-to-back 3-pointers put Nevada ahead 19-18 with 10 more than nine minutes remaining.
The Trojans finished on an 18-9 run over the next six minutes and led 40-35 at the half.
Nevada cut the deficit to three points following KJ Hymes’ and-1 layup. Rakocevic responded with a tip-in second chance opportunity to put the Trojans up 60-52 with 11:18 remaining.
USC extended its lead to double-digits with just over three minutes left in the contest and never looked back.
Nevada faces Davidson for its first road game of the season on Tuesday at the John M. Belk Arena.
“It’s a chance for us to bond over these next 10 days. It’s important to build a chemistry with the young guys on their first road trip,” Alford said.” We’ve got a lot of basketball to play.”
Notes: The Nevada women’s basketball team staged another comeback to defeat Utah Valley 60-57 and improved to 3-0. … Drew has led the Pack in scoring twice this season. … Nevada shot 88 percent from the free throw line. … USC led 89 percent of the game, with its largest lead at 12 points. … There was a paid attendance of 9,833.
— Isaiah Burrows