For a team that hasn’t seen the floor in eight days, Nevada showed no rust in a 98-67 victory over Santa Clara on Wednesday at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.
After a first-place finish in the Paradise Jam World Championship, the Wolf Pack returned home with a sharp vigor from the opening tip. Nevada improved to 6-3. Santa Clara of the West Coast Conference fell to 8-2.
Nevada dominated in all aspects of the game. It picked apart the Broncos’ leaky man-to-man defense with crisp ball movement to go along with a physical presence on the defensive end.
The Wolf Pack have translated their impressive play from the Virgin Islands to downtown Reno.
“What’s been exciting is what took place on the island and now we come back here after eight days off and play very similar,” head coach Steve Alford said post-game. “It was probably even better tonight than what we played on the island. … It’s starting to sink in on what we want to do.”
The Wolf Pack shot 54 percent from the field and 52 percent from 3-point range on 27 attempts. Eight different players scored to go along with a season-high 26 assists.
“I thought we moved the ball really well offensively,” Alford said. “We got good shots and this is the fourth-straight game where our starts have been really good. … Our guys have done a nice job of dictating how the game will be played.”
Jazz Johnson led the offensive barrage from beyond the arc. The senior guard poured in a game-high 20 points on 4-of-7 shooting from deep including a four-point play in the second half. Johnson ranks second in the nation with 36 made 3-point field goals on the year. His 18.7 points per game are also second in the Mountain West Conference.
Despite his individual statistics, Johnson kept a team-first mentality after the win.
“We played well but we had lapses where we got sloppy defensively,” he said. “We have to continue to grow and get better. It’s not the end, it’s still early in the season and we have to keep working on our game.”
Jalen Harris added 16 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Zane Meeks scored 16 points off the bench on 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range. Nisré Zouzoua chipped in with 12 points off the bench. Lindsey Drew finished with eight points, six rebounds and four assists.
Meeks’ confidence has grown to new heights following the tournament win.
“The island was incredible for me,” he said. “My teammates found ways for me to score and I really started to pick it up defensively. As a freshman, it’s a lot of stuff to handle, and I really got to understand those concepts through three games in four days.”
Santa Clara was held to 34 percent shooting from the field and just 17 percent from 3-point range on 29 attempts. Nevada recorded six steals, four blocks and forced 11 turnovers to fuel points in transition.
“I thought defensively we did a lot of good things,” Alford said. “We had a lot of guys commit down low and force some stops and that was good to see.”
Alford featured the three-guard starting five of Harris, Drew, Johnson — with forwards Robby Robinson and Johncarlos Reyes.
Nevada scored on its first four possessions to jump out to a 10-3 lead. The Pack reached the double-digit lead mark with a 22-7 run capped-off by Harris’ two-handed dunk down the lane.
The Wolf Pack pushed its lead to the 20-point mark and held a commanding 53-29 advantage at the half.
Harris opened the second half with a smooth off-the-dribble 3-pointer. The Wolf Pack pushed their lead to the 30s with a pair of Drew free throws. Santa Clara chipped into its deficit via the free throw line.
Back-to-back 3-pointers from Meeks and Zouzoua pushed Nevada’s lead to 87-55 with under eight minutes left to play.
Beating a full-court press, Nevada found open shots and cruised the rest of the way.
Reno ‘s Gabe Banseulo (Bishop Manogue) and Zachary Williams (Galena) entered the game during the final minutes.
The Wolf Pack hit the road once again to face Air Force at the Cadet Field House on Saturday, Dec. 7. Air Force is 4-5 overall this season. It’s the first conference game of the season.
“In my 29 years, I have to look back to see if I played a conference game this early,” Alford said. “It doesn’t happen very often. … We will see how we do at the Academy, it’s not an easy place to play and we know we have to play well.”
Notes: Before tonight’s contest against Santa Clara, Jalen Harris scored 20 or more points over the last four games. … Nevada led by 32 points five minutes in the second half. …. A missed foul before the first half buzzer brought a stream of boos from 7,577 fans in attendance.
— Isaiah Burrows