The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team has been a thrill ride this season.
“It’s been a roller coaster,” Pack head coach David Carter said this week.
Right now the Pack roller coaster is stuck in a valley. The Wolf Pack will bring its first three-game losing streak in two years with them to Fresno State when they take on the Bulldogs on Saturday night (7 p.m.).
Carter, despite his Wolf Pack sitting in last place in the Mountain West at 0-2 (9-7 overall), isn’t calling the game a must-win situation.
“It’s not do or die,” Carter said. “We can’t look at it that way. There is still a lot of season left to play.”
A loss on Saturday, though, and the Pack might be looking up at the Mountain West leaders all season long. Fresno, which is just 7-9 overall and 1-2 in league play, is an opportunity for the Wolf Pack to get a rare road victory in conference play.
“I think all we need to turn things around is to get that first victory in conference,” Carter said. “Sometimes that’s all it takes to get your confidence back.”
Confidence is clearly lacking with the Wolf Pack right now, especially on the offensive end of the floor. The Pack has scored under 50 points twice in its last three games, losing to Wyoming last Saturday at home 59-48 and falling at Oregon 56-43 on New Year’s Eve.
Before those two offensively challenged efforts, the Pack had scored under 50 points just twice in its previous 123 games, dating back to a 47-46 victory at Hawaii on Feb. 14, 2009.
“We just haven’t been able to score,” Carter said. “When we started 4-4 this year, we were still scoring in the 70s. I never thought we’d see this team score in the 40s and 50s like this.”
It shouldn’t happen with a pair of scorers like Deonte Burton and Malik Story. Despite the struggles this month, Burton is still averaging 16.5 points a game and Story is at 15.3. Story, though, is the one whose offensive output has almost totally dried up during the three-game slide.
He has scored just 19 points combined in the three games and is shooting an anemic 19 per cent (7-of-37) overall and 14 percent from 3-point range (3-of-21). Story’s three-game slump is even more glaring considering it came after his 35-point performance helped the Pack beat Yale 85-75 on Dec. 28.
“He’s watched a lot of tape this week and he knows what he’s doing wrong,” Carter said. “It’s a lot of things. He’s off balance. He’s rushing things, Sometimes he’s been caught between deciding whether to drive and when not to.”
Fresno, though, might be the perfect cure for Story. It was against the Bulldogs in the 2011 Western Athletic Conference tournament that the shooting guard enjoyed one of his great performances in a Pack uniform, scoring 34 points in a 90-80 Pack victory.
“It all comes back to confidence,” Carter said. “He’s just not very confident right now.”
Carter said that also applies to the entire roster.
“We’re struggling,” he said. “When you get in a shooting slump, it kind of snowballs. And that’s what has happened. We’re getting good looks. That’s not the problem. But when you get those looks, you have to have the courage to make the shots.”
Fresno State, despite its 49-36 victory over Wyoming on Wednesday, might be exactly what the Wolf Pack needs to get out of its slump. The Pack has won its last four games against its former Western Athletic Conference foe, including twice last year. The Pack also won at Fresno’s Save Mart Center a year ago, 79-76, in three overtimes.
This is the first Mountain West game between the two long-time opponents. The Pack dominated Fresno state when the two schools were in the WAC for a dozen seasons, winning 18-of-26 games to take a 49-37 edge in the 89-year-old series.
“Fresno is kind of like us right now,” Carter said. “They also struggle to score points.”
The Bulldogs, also like the Pack, basically play a four-guard lineup. Their leading scorer of a year ago, junior Kevin Olekaibe, has struggled all year. Olekaibe, who is from Las Vegas’ Cimarron-Memorial High School (his parents are from Nigeria), was second in the WAC in scoring a year ago at 17.8 points a game. He averaged 35.6 points a game during his senior year at Cimarron-Memorial in 2009-10. This year, though, the 6-foot-2 guard is at 8.2 points a game.
“They have some guys who are capable of scoring points,” Carter said. “I’m a little surprised they haven’t scored more.”
Olekaibe struggled against the Pack last season, shooting just 7-of-30 (23 percent) and scoring just 24 points combined in two games. As a freshman in three games against the Pack in 2010-11, he averaged 15.7 points and shot 42 percent (14-of-33) and averaged 15.7 points a game.
“Fresno is very patient on offense,” said Carter, who is 5-2 against Fresno as the Pack’s head coach. “They’ll make you defend for 20-25 seconds on each possession. They don’t like to shoot very quickly.”
Carter is more worried about Fresno’s defense despite the fact that the Pack has scored 60 or more points in each of its last 31 games against the Bulldogs dating back to Nov. 28 1981 when Carter was 14-years-old.
“They are a very scrappy team,” he said. “Defensively, they play very well. We’re going to have our work cut out for us against their defense.”