The annual two-game trip to San Jose State and Hawaii is traditionally the toughest in Western Athletic Conference basketball. The long flight to Honolulu — coupled with the scenery — poses a major distraction for most teams.
San Jose is supposed to be the easy part, because the Spartans usually struggle in the WAC. So when UNR earned a split over the weekend, it was with a bizarre twist.
The Wolf Pack (9-6, 1-1 WAC) lost at San Jose State on Thursday, 62-60, then went to Hawaii on Saturday and defeated the Warriors, 77-59. If that wasn’t unusual enough, UNR hit only 7 of 16 free throws at San Jose for a season-low 43.8 percent, then made a season-best 85.7 percent (18 of 21) at Hawaii.
Coach Mark Fox is still trying to figure it out.
“It’s a situation where we were two different teams,” Fox said Monday during the weekly WAC coaches teleconference. “San Jose State beat us, but we played much better defensively at Hawaii.
“It’s not what we set out to get, but it’s what we came home with.”
Fox figures his young, unpredictable team is going to have shooting lulls, but he won’t accept poor defensive effort. He was tempted to juggle his lineup after losing to San Jose State, but quickly realized that none of his substitutes had played any better on defense than his starters. So he left his lineup intact and the Wolf Pack responded in Hawaii, with Marcelus Kemp scoring a season-high 29 points.
“I think we learned our lesson from San Jose,” he said. “Our effort was much better overall at Hawaii.”
The free-throw disparities between the games were puzzling. UNR hasn’t been a great foul-shooting team, averaging just 71 percent despite Kemp’s 86 percent and Brandon Fields’ 84 percent. Kemp was 8-for-8 at Hawaii and has made his last 20 attempts at the line.
“Our inconsistency at the foul line is tied to mental concentration and preparation,” Fox said. “The deficiencies come from pressure in part but a lack of concentration as well. It’s something we work on every day.”
• NOTES — The Wolf Pack hosts Idaho (4-11, 1-3 WAC) on Thursday and Boise State (12-4, 3-1) on Saturday. … UNR has won nine straight against Idaho. … The win at Hawaii raised Fox’s coaching record to 90-24, all at UNR since 2004.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or (702) 387-2913.