The Nevada Wolf Pack took yet another step on its long and winding road to maturity.
"This is really the first time we got a lead and added to it," coach David Carter said after the Wolf Pack cruised to a 71-47 victory over the UC Riverside Highlanders on Saturday at Lawlor Events Center. "We played a good game from start to finish, senior Dario Hunt said.
"We never stopped," senior Olek Czyz said.
The Pack, which has now won five games in a row to improve to 8-3, jumped out to an 11-3 lead in front of 4,063 fans and extended it to 35-22 by halftime.
UC Riverside then never cut the Pack's lead under 20 over the final 14:48.
"We gave a good effort for the whole 40 minutes," said Czyz, who led the Pack along with Malik Story with 15 points.
"We didn't let up," Story said.
The Highlanders (4-6) also never put up much of a fight. Riverside settled for jumpers all game long -- and they shot just 30% -- and only went to the free throw line nine times.
"We talked at halftime about trying to continue to be the aggressor," Carter said. "We were only up by 13 at the half and that's only four or five possessions. So we talked about playing with a lead and going out there and continuing to attack."
The Pack did most of its attacking on defense.
"We guarded the ball well on the perimeter and inside," Carter said. "We didn't allow much dribble penetration and we did a nice job in transition."
The Wolf Pack held Riverside to just six points over the first 10 minutes of the second half, stretching its 13-point halftime lead to 56-28.
"Everybody is focused on defense and everybody wants to play defense this year," said Hunt, who had 12 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks and a steal.
A big focus of the Pack defense was Riverside guard Phil Martin. The 6-foot-6 Martin had scored 25 points in each of the Highlanders' last two games, victories over Montana State and UC Santa Cruz.
"We focused on him a lot," Carter said. "We tried to make it hard for him every time he touched the ball. We kept telling the guys, 'Challenge his shot. Don't let him get started.'"
Martin, averaging 16.6 points, was 2-of-10 from the field and scored just nine points. This was the first game in the last six that Martin did not lead the Highlanders in scoring (guard Kareem Nitoto had 11).
"We played great defense all game long," Hunt said.
Riverside's 47 points ties the season low for a Pack opponent this year (the Pack beat Prairie View A&M 60-47 on Nov. 20).
"This is the best team defense we've had since I've been here," Hunt said.
"Everybody is chipping in."
Everybody in silver and blue also got into the act on offense. Deonte Burton scored 10 points to join Story, Czyz and Hunt in double figures.
"We have a lot of guys who can score and we have to share that," Carter said.
Burton, who had scored 80 points combined over the Pack's last three games, has been the focus of the offense lately. But the sophomore point guard didn't score on Saturday until there were just 91 seconds left in the first half.
"Deonte let the game come to him," Carter said. "I was impressed by how we shared the ball."
Burton had four of the Pack's 11 assists.
"Their defense was sagging on us," Czyz said. "It was like people weren't guarding you. They weren't respecting our shot."
Czyz took advantage of the lazy Highlanders' defense to connect for three 3-points, two in a span of three minutes early in the second half.
The Pack was 6-of-16 from 3-point range.
"We also wanted to go inside and not just settle for the 3-point shot because we knew that shot (the 3-pointer) would be there for us the whole game," Czyz said.
Burton hit a 3-pointer for a 65-39 lead with 5:17 to play and Patrick Nyeko came off the bench to nail a trey for a 68-42 lead a minute later. Backup point guard Jordan Finn had four free throws in the final 2:48 as Carter emptied his bench.
The Pack, which will host Portland on Dec. 22 at Lawlor Events Center, has now won eight of its last nine games after two losses to open the season to Missouri State and UNLV.
"We're playing with a lot of confidence and that just comes from winning," Czyz said. "We're playing better defense, we're staying on top of our assignments and we're executing better. When you do all those things that's where the confidence comes from."