David Carter admits that his Nevada Wolf Pack just might be a better basketball team on the road this year than it is at home.
“It seems like we have more of a sense of urgency on the road,” the Wolf Pack head coach said. “It seems like the guys are more engaged.”
The Wolf Pack, which will play at Fresno State on Wednesday (7 p.m.) and Wyoming on Saturday (1 p.m.), is 5-2 on the road and just 4-5 at home.
“When we’re on the road we go after teams,” senior point guard Deonte Burton said. “At home we kind of relax a little bit and we’re a little more laid back.”
The Wolf Pack, 9-9 overall and in second place in the Mountain West at 4-1, is coming off a 74-65 loss at home to Boise State on Jan. 14. The loss ended a season-high four-game winning streak and knocked the Wolf Pack out of first place in the Mountain West.
“We learned from that game that we can’t sit back and wait for teams to hit us in the mouth,” Burton said.
The Wolf Pack, which won’t return home until Jan. 29 against Colorado State, has had a week to think about that punch in the mouth.
“You always like playing games more than you like practicing but the week has been good for us,” sophomore forward Cole Huff said. “We got a chance to get our legs back under us and work on things.”
The Pack, Carter said, went back to Basketball 101.
“There was a lot of review,” Carter said. “It gave us a chance to go back to fundamentals and review defensive principles. It’s been good for us.”
The Wolf Pack allowed 44 points in the second half against Boise. It was the most points the Pack had allowed in a half since it allowed 49 in the first half to California eight games ago in a 92-84 loss on Dec. 10.
“Our defense was a little off track against Boise,” Huff said.
Fresno State just might be the best medicine for what ails the Pack. The Bulldogs (8-11, 1-5) has lost three games in a row and eight of its last 10. The Wolf Pack has also dominated the Bulldogs in recent years, winning 19 of the last 26 games in the rivalry since 2001. The two teams split two games a year ago with team winning on the road.
“Fresno is very similar to Boise,” Huff said. “They are smaller and play three guards a lot.”
“Their guards are going to come off screens so we have to communicate better on defense,” said Burton, who leads the Mountain West in scoring at 20.9 points.
Fresno State is led by 6-4 sophomore Marvelle Harris, 6-4 senior Tyler Johnson, 6-1 sophomore Cezar Guerrero, 6-7 freshman Paul Watson and 6-1 senior Allen Huddleston.
Harris is averaging 15.4 points a game with 4.9 rebounds. Johnson averages 15.3 points and 6.8 rebounds and Guerrero averages 14.1 points and 4.1 assists. Watson has chipped in with 10.1 points and Huddleston adds 9.4 points a game. Guerrero is second in the Mountain West from the free throw line (.871) and Johnson is third (.870). Johnson is also fifth in the conference in field goals at .468.
“Their strength is in their guards,“ Carters said. “They like to run and they can score pretty fast. We have to do a good job of slowing them down.”
Opposing teams have done a good job of slowing down the Wolf Pack’s top offensive weapon. Burton has scored just 21 points in the last two games combined. He has also missed 25 of his last 30 3-point shots over the last seven games and has had just one 20-point game over his last six games after scoring 20 or more in 10 of the first 12 games.
“It was good to have this past week to get some rest,” Burton said. “Against Boise I was gassed. The rest has helped all of us. It was good just to get our timing back and get our energy back.”
The Wolf Pack has played just two road games (winning at San Jose State on Jan. 1 and UNLV on Jan. 5) in the last 43 days.
“There’s never an easy win on the road,” Huff said. “We have to take care of business. It would be big for us to get these two road victories.”
This is just the Wolf Pack’s third two-game road trip against Mountain West teams since it joined the conference last season. The first two times they lost both games, losing at UNLV and New Mexico (Jan. 29 and Feb. 2, 2013) and at San Diego State and Boise State (Feb. 23 and Feb. 27, 2013).
“Coming off a loss, we don’t want to lose both of these games,” Carter said.