Luke Babbitt once again turned in a Herculean performance and caused the ESPN commentators to extol his skills and predict a fine eventual NBA career for him. They even went as far as comparing his style of play to many former NBA greats. Most of their admiration came for Babbitt’s ability to score from any point on the floor. His ball handling skills, for a tall man, were another impressive part of his performance on Wednesday night. With the Aggies playing a zone for most of the night Babbitt was free to show off his three point shooting ability as well as his ability to slash to the basket for mid-range shots and easy layups. His consistency at the free throw line was also an admired accomplishment.
However, the physical demands of carrying most of the offensive load wore him down towards the end of the game and his deadly shooting went awry when Utah switched to a man to man defense and consistently double and triple teamed him. His yeoman work on the boards at both ends also contributed to his eventual fatigue.
Nevada coach David Carter has been plagued this season with a shortage on the bench of players that can “spell” his starting five. Wednesday was no exception, however the Aggies zone gave sixth man Ray Kraemer the opportunity show off his major talent as he hit all of his shots, four, from beyond the three point arc and even canned his only other shot, just inside the line, for a total of 14.
For excitement alone Wednesday night’s contest was probably one of the more exciting to be played in the Lawlor Events Center in many years. The slightly over 7,000 fans in attendance seemed larger as the noise reached top decibel levels.
When the regulation time was just under five seconds both teams had a shot at the win. Nevada was first as it had point guard Armon Johnson dribbling the ball up-court, unfortunately instead of driving the middle of the floor and trying for his patented circus layup Johnson veered to the sideline, tried to ward off a closing defender and ended up out of bounds. On the inbound play Utah got the ball in the hands of one of its top three-point shooters and he let it fly. The ball rimmed out of the basket as the buzzer sounded. Strangely enough, the first points in the overtime came from the hands of the same player as he fired once again, almost from the identical spot and the ball zipped through, with nothing but net. The rest of the overtime period was a great defensive battle by both teams with Nevada unable to score and Utah getting another three and a free throw to reach the final tally.
Bench strength was obvious as the Aggies seemed to finish faster and in better shape than the Wolf Pack. This fact was also not lost on the ESPN commentators as they admired the coolness and precision with which the visitors erased the Nevada lead toward the end of the game and dominated in overtime.
Currently Louisiana Tech leads the WAC standings with a 4-0 record and Fresno State is close behind at 3-0. When Nevada played La Tech at Louisiana it could have won the tight game. Also Nevada fared favorably when it visited highly ranked North Carolina this year. So, what you see in this year’s edition of the University roundballers is like a favorite recipe that lacks only one ingredient to make it an exceptional dish. That one ingredient is some scoring strength of the bench that can maintain the edge that the starting five has held in many of its contests.
The good news this week for coach Carter is that the local star from Reno High, Olek Czyz, who is transferring out of his Duke scholarship, has committed to play for the Wolf Pack. Enrolling this semester and in the fall, but will not be eligible to play until spring 2011. However, he will be that missing ingredient that will give the team mix that shore of reaching gourmet status.