Given the way UNR played last week to inch closer in the Western Athletic Conference race, coach Mark Fox believes the Wolf Pack might finally be figuring things out.
“I don’t think we’ve had confidence issues; we’ve had an intelligence issue,” Fox said Monday on the WAC coaches teleconference after UNR’s road sweep of New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech. “We haven’t played real smart at times, so it was good to see them play with more intelligence on the trip.”
At 4-2 in the WAC (12-7 overall), the Wolf Pack is still trying to catch three teams in the second half of the conference season. UNR could make great strides in the title race by winning at home Thursday against Fresno State and Saturday at Utah State.
Fox admittedly has had to show patience while his team’s collective basketball IQ catches up with its ability.
“We have so many guys with new roles, it’s taken longer than we hoped,” he said. “Our battle all year has been to make them play with more intelligence, and they’ve started to play smarter.”
With better shot selection, better decisions with the ball and by maintaining defensive focus, the Wolf Pack has begun to reduce the mental mistakes that proved so costly early in the season.
Fox also is getting better contributions from his bench. Senior David Ellis, UNR’s 7-foot-1-inch backup center, made all seven of his field-goal attempts while scoring a career-high 14 points in Saturday’s 83-70 victory at Louisiana Tech.
Richie Phillips, who has struggled since returning last month from a stress fracture in his right leg, had his best game of the season with 14 minutes of pressure defense against Louisiana Tech guard Kyle Gibson. Though Gibson finished with 18 points, topping his 15.4 average, Phillips helped limit him to 3-for-11 shooting from the floor. Gibson made 10 of 12 free throws.
Also, Wolf Pack sophomore guard Ray Kraemer, who averages barely seven minutes, had his most productive outing with seven points, three rebounds, one assist and one steal in nine minutes.
“It was good to see them contribute,” said Fox, whose subs had a 31-10 scoring edge and 18-8 rebounding advantage over Tech’s backups. “Certainly the bench play has been improved in recent weeks.
“(Ellis) has been productive most of the year and he has been practicing better the last 10 days.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or (702) 387-2913.