RENO —The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team has seemingly come back to Northern Nevada a different team.
“It happened after the Davidson game,” senior Jazz Johnson said. “Some of the old guys came together and we had a heart-to-heart talk. We just wanted to hold everyone accountable. I just hope we can keep it up.”
The Wolf Pack, playing its first home game in 18 days, certainly kept it up Wednesday night at Lawlor Events Center, shredding the Santa Clara Broncos, 98-67, in front of a crowd of 7,577.
The Pack has now won four games in a row by an average margin of 21 points since it lost 91-71 at Davidson on Nov. 19. The first three victories in the winning streak came in the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Nov. 22-25.
“The islands were incredible,” said freshman Zane Meeks of the Pack’s wins over Fordham, Bowling Green and Valparaiso.
“What is really exciting is that we took what happened on the island and we came back home and played real similar,” said Pack coach Steve Alford, whose Wolf Pack is now 6-3. “I like where we’re at.”
The Wolf Pack barely broke a sweat in beating the Broncos (8-2). Five Pack players scored in double figures, led by Johnson’s 20 on four 3-pointers. Jalen Harris also had 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists and Meeks had 16 on four threes. Nisre Zouzoua had a dozen points and Robby Robinson had 10.
“It was just moving the basketball,” Alford said. “We shared the ball, we didn’t turn it over and we took good shots. We have a lot of guys on this team who can make shots.”
The Wolf Pack shot 54 percent (34-of-63) from the floor overall and drained 14-of-27 (52 percent) 3-pointers. The 14 threes are a season high as are the 98 points and 31-point margin of victory.
“The nine guys in our rotation all had a lot of good minutes,” Alford said.
The Pack dominated at both ends of the floor, holding Santa Clara to 36 percent (24-of-67) shooting overall and 14 percent (4-of-28) on threes. The Pack also outrebounded the Broncos 51-35, setting a season high for boards in a game.
“When you get that many rebounds that just means the other team missed a lot of shots,” Alford said. “We played good defense.”
The Pack led from start to finish.
The Wolf Pack took all of the drama out of the game by racing out to a 53-29 lead by halftime. A series of wide-open threes and layups allowed the Wolf Pack to shoot 59 percent (20-of-34) from the floor overall and 54 percent on threes (7-of-13) in the first 20 minutes.
“Offensively, the ball moved,” Alford said. “We got good shots.”
Johnson led the Pack in the first half with 13 points and four assists. The 5-foot-10 senior was 3-of-4 on threes and also had two rebounds and a steal. Meeks came off the bench in the first half to score eight points, hitting 2-of-4 threes and hauling in four boards. Lindsey Drew did a little of everything in the opening half, scoring six points on 3-of-3 shooting with five rebounds, two assists and a block. Harris chipped in with seven points, seven rebounds, three assists and a block.
“Jalen Harris is really evolving as a player,” Alford said.
Santa Clara, which shot 50 percent from the floor over its first nine games of the year, was an ice-cold 11-of-40 (28 percent) in the first half. The Broncos also missed 16-of-19 threes in the first 20 minutes.
The Wolf Pack jumped out to a 13-3 lead three minutes into the game and never looked back. Harris and Johnson each had a 3-pointer to help the Pack get off to its fast start.
Johnson and Zouzoua added 3-pointers as the Pack stretched its lead to 19-7 five minutes into the game. Dunks by Harris and Robinson as well as a layup and a 3-pointer by Meeks put the Pack up 30-13 with 11:36 to go in the half.
Johnson added his third 3-pointer for a 35-15 lead and Meeks hit his second for a 43-20 lead with just over eight minutes to play in the opening half.
The Wolf Pack outrebounded Santa Clara 29-18 in the first half and had 15 assists on 20 field goals. The Pack would finish the game with 26 assists on 34 field goals, setting a season high for assists.
Santa Clara’s Tahj Eaddy and Trey Wertz, who came into the game averaging 21.9 points a game combined, teamed up in the first half to go 2-for-13 from the floor overall and 1-of-10 on threes for five points. Wertz and Eaddy each finished the game with seven points. Eaddy was 2-of-11 (1-of-8) on threes) and Wertz was 2-of-8 from the floor (1-of-6 on threes).
“Jazz got his 20 points but the thing I like the most is his leadership and how he’s defending,” Alford said. “Those things are contagious. Wertz was his assignment tonight and he did a great job on him.”
The 53 points is a season high for the Pack in the first half. The Pack’s previous high for a first half this year was 49 against Valparaiso on Nov. 24 in an 84-59 win. The 24-point lead at halftime against Santa Clara is also the Pack’s biggest halftime advantage of the year. The Pack’s biggest lead at halftime before Wednesday night was 18 against both Valparaiso (49-31) and Bowling Green (42-24) on Nov. 25.
The Wolf Pack kept piling on the Broncos in the second half. Harris drained a 3-pointer just 11 seconds into the second half for a 56-29 lead as the Broncos never put up a fight.
Johnson hit a 3-pointer for a 65-36 lead with 16:44 to go, Meeks connected on his third 3-pointer of the game for a 70-38 lead with 14:50 to and Zouzoua connected for a 3-pointer and a 77-48 lead with just over 11 minutes to play.
Meeks and Zouzoua continued draining threes as the blowout continued. Meeks made it 84-53 with 9:11 to play and Zouzoua gave the Pack an 87-53 lead with 8:42 to play. Meeks also had five points and three assists to go along with his 16 points.
“Zane Meeks had a great night,” Alford said. “He gave us a big boost off the bench.”
Kane Milling’s 3-pointer gave the Pack a 95-58 lead with 3:20 to go.
A dunk by Meeks with 6:22 to play gave the Pack its first 90-point game (and a 90-58 lead) in the Alford era. The Pack had an excellent chance at its first 100-point game in the Alford era after a Hymes jumper put Nevada up 98-60 with 2:55 to go. The Pack, though, missed its final four shots as Alford emptied the bench.
Santa Clara saw its five-game winning streak come to an end. The Broncos’ only loss this season before Wednesday came at Stanford (82-64 on Nov. 16). Santa Clara, which competed in the West Coast Conference with the Wolf Pack from 1969-79, has now lost five consecutive games to Nevada since 2006. The Broncos, though, still lead the series 34-29.
The 98 points is the second most scored by the Pack against the Broncos since the rivalry started in 1913. The Pack’s scoring high in the rivalry was in a 103-89 win during the 1973-74 season in Reno.
The Wolf Pack will open its Mountain West schedule this Saturday in Colorado Springs, Colo., against Air Force and will play at BYU on Dec. 10 before returning to Lawlor Events Center to host Texas Southern on Dec. 18.
“You could see our confidence tonight,” Alford said. “That’s what happens when you win a championship (the Paradise Jam). There were eight teams there and only one (the Pack) went 3-0. And those three opponents were never in the game.”
Santa Clara was the fourth.