MORAGA, Calif. - No defense. No victory.
Nevada put forth one of its worst defensive efforts of the season, yielding 55 second-half points en route to an 89-80 nonconference loss to Saint Mary's College Saturday afternoon at McKeon Pavilion.
The 20th-ranked Pack dropped to 10-2, and are in danger of falling out of the top 25 in the Associated Press poll. That aside, it certainly wasn't the way you want to get ready for the Western Athletic Conference season. Nevada opens at Hawai'i on Thursday.
"We played extremely poor on defense," said Nevada coach Mark Fox. "We have made zero progress in that area. That's on me. I didn't do a good job of coaching. The effort was OK.
"We played 30 minutes of defense the other night. We haven't consistently been good on defense. The second-half defense was awful. We have to do a better job defensively. We have to play defense without fouling and keep people off the line and the offensive glass."
The Gaels shot 38 free throws compared to 23 for Nevada, and Saint Mary's outrebounded Nevada 36-35, including 17 on the offensive glass.
The defense really fell down in a four-minute span in the second half when the Gaels went on an 18-0 surge to erase a 57-50 deficit and take a 68-57 lead, and it was little-known Brett Collins, who finished with a career-high 31 points, who did the bulk of the damage.
"I was feeling good and I took what they gave me," said Collins, who entered the game with a 9.4 average. "Coach (Randy Bennett) told me to be more aggressive. I'm coming on the way I'm supposed to be. I hit a couple of shots in a row ..."
Todd Golden started the surge with a 3-pointer from the corner, and Rafael DaSilva scored in the paint over Chad Bell to make it 57-55 with 11:40 left.
After that, it was a big dose of Collins. He knocked in a 3-pointer to give the Gaels the lead for good at the 10:35 mark. After Nevada turned the ball over when Ramon Sessions was tagged with an offensive foul, Collins muscled a shot in against Mo Charlo (17 points) and was fouled. He hit the ensuing free throw to make it 61-57. After Nick Fazekas (21 points) forced a shot, Collins was fouled and hit two free throws. After Nevada misfired, Blake Sholberg drained a free throw with 8:15 left.
"We just couldn't get a stop," Fox said. "We had some bad possessions.
"He (Collins) killed us. He made his shots and got to the line and completed them (12 for 13)."
Conversely, Collins said defense was what turned the game in the Gaels' favor.
"We finally got some stops," he said. "They went on a little run to start the half and then we started trading baskets."
Nevada, or rather Marcelus Kemp (22 points), went on a run of its own. With Fazekas on the bench, and he would stay there for the next five-plus minutes, the Pack outscored SMC 10-2, all by Kemp, cutting the lead to 70-67 with with 5:34 left. The Pack hit 19 of 32 in the second half, which enabled it to stay in the contest.
"We shot over 50 percent (30 for 59)," Fox said. "Our offense had very little to do with losing this game. We only had 12 turnovers. I'd probably take thosde numbers."
Indeed. It was defense and rebounding.
A putback by freshman Diamon Simpson, who had nine points and seven rebounds, plus two free throws apiece by Daniel Kickert (17 points) and Collins made it 76-69. A trey by Kemp and two free throws by Charlo reduced the lead to 78-74 with 3:59 left. Nevada twice got the lead down to four, 82-78 and 84-80, but were forced to foul and the Gaels were equal to the task.
The first half featured seven ties and 12 lead changes. Two free throws by UNLV transfer John Winston gave the Gaels a 34-33 edge after 20 minutes. Winston scored all five of his first-half points in the final 3 minutes 44 seconds of the half.
Nevada held the biggest lead of the half, 11-5, thanks to an early 9-0 run, which wiped out an early 5-2 deficit. Kyle Shiloh (12 points) scored from underneath, Charlo rifled in a 3-pointer, and then Shiloh completed the flurry with a slam dunk in transition and two free throws.
Saint Mary's bounced right back with a 7-0 surge for a 12-11 lead thanks to putbacks by Simpson, who scored seven first-half points off the bench, and Collins, who also scored seven.
After those two initial surges the game settled down with no team leading by anymore than three points over the final 11-plus minutes.
Leading 45-44 with 16:01 left in the game, Nevada went on a 12-6 run to take a 57-50 lead, its biggest of the game, with 12:49 left. Fazekas hit a jump shot and then Shiloh hit a jump shot in transition for a 49-44 lead. After Collins dunked, Charlo connected on a fadeaway and Fazekas blocked a shot and scored at the other end to make it 55-49. After a Collins free throw, Sessions scored on a floater for a seven-point lead.
And that's when Nevada's defense took a siesta, and let the game slip away.
"It was both (their offense and Nevada's defense)," Kemp said. "We do defensive drills everyday at practice. When things go bad on the court, coach Fox puts it on himself. It's not his fault. It's our fault. I don't know what the problem is."
It would be easy to point to the schedule and say three games in five days is too many. Fox, for the most part, refused to use it as an excuse. The only thing he did say is that he may have set the team up for failure with the way he scheduled.
And fail it did - at least at one end of the court.