Grading the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team after a 90-71 victory over the New Mexico State Aggies Thursday night at Lawlor Events Center . . .
OLEK CZYZ: B+
Czyz seemed content to be a complementary part against the Aggies. And that shows just how much his game is maturing almost on a nightly basis. The junior took good shots and made most of them, hitting 7-of-10 from the floor. He scored 15 points and had three rebounds, two assists and a steal in 28 minutes. His only negative on this night was three turnovers. The 6-7 forward, though, is the glue that has brought this team together. The Pack is 4-6 since he played his first game on Dec. 17 after going 2-7 without him the first month.
DARIO HUNT: A+
If Dario Hunt does not get serious consideration for Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year honors, well, there should be an investigation. The Pack junior center had an almost flawless night, going 6-of-9 from the field, 8-of-10 from the free throw line, scoring 20 points, pulling down 12 rebounds, blocking three shots and handing out two assists. And, oh yeah, he was called for just two fouls in 35 minutes. He helped turn all of the Aggies big men into jump shooters. In short, Hunt played an almost perfect game.
JERRY EVANS: B
Evans might be the most unselfish Pack player. The red-shirt freshman has a tremendous amount of skills (he can shoot, defend, rebound, run the floor) but his role on this team is to be a utility man. He does a great job of letting the game come to him. He scored seven points (3-of-5 shooting) with five rebounds, a block and a steal in 24 minutes against the Aggies. Evans will be a vital piece in the Pack machine in the future but right now his role is to do what the other four starters don’t. And he‘s doing it very well.
DEONTE BURTON: A+
Burton also needs to be looked at very closely when the WAC Player of the Year votes are cast. The freshman point guard also played a near-perfect game against the Aggies. He was 8-of-11 from the floor, scored a game-high 22 points and had six assists and three steals. He also had five boards and turned the ball over just twice in 31 minutes. The 6-1 Burton also played two positions against the Aggies, moving over to shooting guard when Derrell Conner was on the floor.
MALIK STORY: B
Story had an off-night shooting the ball, missing 10 of his 14 shots. He was 2-of-7 both inside and outside the 3-point arc. But he did a nice job contributing in other ways, with six boards and four assists. Story, though, also had four turnovers. At times, especially during those times when his shot isn’t falling, he likes to dribble into traffic in the paint a bit too much for his own good. But the 6-5 sophomore plays hard every second he’s on the floor. And he’s always just a shot or two away from draining three threes in a span of about 90 seconds.
Backup point guard Derrell Conner played his best game as a Pack player. The 6-foot junior packed a lot of punch into his 14 minutes, scoring 10 points with five assists and three steals. He hit two 3-pointers, had two rebounds and turned the ball over just once. His effort just might be the best performance by a Pack player off the bench this season . . . Patrick Nyeko has also played his way into an energy role off the bench. The sophomore played 14 minutes and had two boards and two points but he was seen hustling all over the floor against the Aggies . . . Devonte Elliott, a 6-10 freshman, chipped in with four points, two boards and an assist in 15 minutes. Elliott’s role might be in for an upgrade with 6-11 senior Illiwa Baldwin dealing with academic troubles. Baldwin, Pack coach David Carter said, might see his one and only Pack season cut short.
Carter’s strategy of using both point guards (Burton and Conner) on the floor together for extended minutes paid off big time. The Pack head coach also sensed (OK, everybody in the gym saw it, too) that the Aggies were clearly out of shape and huffing and puffing up and down the floor in the Wolf Pack altitude. The Pack then simply ran the Aggies out of the gym. It took Carter a month to mold his team after Czyz made his debut on Dec. 17. But the wait was well worth it. This Pack team is clearly the second best team in the WAC right now (behind Utah State) and they still have six weeks to grow and mature into No. 1. Don’t bet against Carter and this young and energetic bunch. The thing about this team that you have to love is that even when they were losing they never stopped hustling. And now that hustle is paying off in victories. The Pack is just 6-13 but with 11 games left in the regular season a .500 record heading into the WAC Tournament in March in Las Vegas is a very real possibility.