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Three takeaways: Offense and defense let Nevada down in sweep at Wyoming

Marcus Williams
Marcus Williams and Wyoming completed a sweep of Nevada over the weekend. (Troy Babbitt/Wyoming athletics)

It was a weekend of sweeps for the Nevada basketball programs as the Wolf Pack women swept Wyoming to move out of last place in the Mountain West and the Wolf Pack men were upset twice in Laramie, Wyo., to suffer its second sweep of the season. Nevada fell to 10-7 overall and 5-5 in the MW in the process and will play a two-game home series against UNLV starting Sunday. Here are three takeaways from Nevada's losses to the Cowboys.

1. Offense loses one, defense loses one

Nevada had one bad offensive game and one bad defensive game, and both ended up costing the Wolf Pack. In game one, Nevada's offense was abysmal as the Wolf Pack fell behind by 20 points in the second half before rallying to take the lead and then wilting late in a 71-64 loss. Grant Sherfield, who has been so fabulous this season, was held to eight points on 2-of-16 shooting, but he was far from the only Wolf Pack player to struggle offensively. Nevada's bench tallied just four points on 1-of-10 shooting in 60 minutes. That same bench combined for nine fouls. The Wolf Pack made only 4-of-25 3-pointers with Warren Washington (a career-high 21 points) being the only Nevada player to post an above-average offensive game. Nevada shot 33.9 percent, its second-lowest mark of the season (it shot just 31.6 percent in the loss to San Francisco). In game two, that offense perked up with Nevada getting to the foul line a season-high 38 times in addition to shooting 43.3 percent from the field. Sherfield had his typical effort, scoring 26 points. Four players hit double-figures, and the bench chipped in 26 points. But it was the defense that collapsed in a 93-88 loss. Those 93 points were a season high allowed. Wyoming's 50.8 percent shooting was the second highest allowed by Nevada (Grand Canyon shot 57.7 percent against the Wolf Pack). Five Wyoming players hit double figures. Nevada couldn't put a strong offensive and defensive game together, and it cost the Wolf Pack. In fact, the Wolf Pack posted its worst offensive outing of the season in game one and second-worst defensive outing of the season in game two. That's a bad formula.

2. Nevada now in race for tournament bye

The Wolf Pack entered last week in good shape in the race for a bye in the Mountain West Tournament, which requires a top-five seed in the tournament. It exited the week in a less stable spot. Nevada (5-5 in the MW) sits in a tie for fifth in the MW along with Wyoming (4-4) and UNLV (2-2). The top four teams in the final standings are going to be some iteration of Boise State (9-0), Utah State (9-1), Colorado State (8-2) and San Diego State (5-3). That leaves Nevada, Wyoming and UNLV vying for the fifth and final bye, with the Wolf Pack and Rebels playing a key series this week. Nevada still has two-game series with the MW's top three teams, Boise State, Utah State and Colorado State, so it has a difficult upcoming slate that will make finishing above .500 in conference play difficult after taking some bad losses in the first half of the MW season (a home loss to Air Force, two road losses to Wyoming). The advanced metrics still show Nevada as a slight favorite to edge UNLV and Wyoming for that final conference tournament bye, but the Wolf Pack has its work cut out for itself while Wyoming has put itself back in the race. None of Nevada's five MW losses have come by more than seven points, so it's not like the Wolf Pack hasn't been competitive in its losses. With all five of Nevada's conference wins coming by 10-plus points, the Wolf Pack's 5-5 standing in MW play is the worst-case scenario given how Nevada has played in league. It simply hasn't won any of its close games.

3. Daniel Foster makes his debut

I've written a lot about Foster the last few weeks as he was working his way back from a shoulder injury suffered late in training camp. The true freshman from Australia made his debut at Wyoming, and you can see why the Wolf Pack coaches spoke so glowingly about Foster, who played a season of post-grad prep ball in the Bay Area last season after coming over from Australia. The 6-foot-6 point guard, who can play multiple positions, was held scoreless while fouling out in 10 minutes in the first game at Wyoming. But in game two, he showed why Nevada is high on him. In 23 minutes, Foster made 3-of-6 shots, including a 3-pointer, and tallied eight points, three rebounds, two assists and two turnovers while fouling out again. Clearly, he'll have to curb the fouls, but Foster is an aggressive player who doesn't seem intimated by the big jump from overseas ball to American college ball (he played Australian rules football as a youth, so a little basketball physicality won't bother him). Foster's minutes were extended against Wyoming because Zane Meeks, the Wolf Pack's third-leading scorer, didn't play due to knee soreness and Wyoming plays four guards, so Nevada used a smaller lineup. But it's telling Foster was in the game at crunch time drawing big defensive assignments. When Meeks returns to action, most likely against UNLV this weekend, I wouldn't be surprised to see Foster serve as the first guard off Nevada's bench. That role is currently held by Kane Milling, who is averaging 22.9 minutes and 4.8 points per game on 36 percent shooting, including 29.7 percent from three. Foster should be given a chance to show if he can bolster Nevada's backcourt bench minutes.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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