Dario Hunt was excited to start his senior season. Maybe a little too excited.
“Those first four or five games I think he was forcing it,” Nevada Wolf Pack coach David Carter said. “I think he was trying to win a game in the first half instead of letting the game come to him.”
Hunt did not score in double figures until the Pack’s fifth game of the year and then went four games in a row without reaching double digits in rebounds. A year ago as a junior he averaged 12.4 points and 9.7 rebounds a game.
The last four games, though, Hunt has put it all together. The 6-foot-8 senior center has recorded a double-double in points and rebounds in each of the Pack’s last four games against Arizona State, Montana, Riverside and Portland.
Hunt is averaging 9.3 points and 8.9 rebounds this season for the 9-3 Wolf Pack. The last four games he is averaging 12.8 points and 11 rebounds a game after averaging 7.6 points and 8.3 rebounds over the first eight games. The last time out he had 15 points and 11 rebounds in a 78-60 victory over Portland last Thursday night at Lawlor Events Center.
“He is in a real good rhythm now,” said Carter, whose Wolf Pack will host Cedarville on Wednesday night (7:05 p.m.) at Lawlor Events Center.
Hunt now has 15 double-doubles in his four-year Pack career. He had one as a sophomore in 2009-10 and 10 a year ago to add to his four this season.
Hunt’s four consecutive double-doubles are not a school record. Nick Fazekas, for example, had five in a row to start the 2006-07 season and had six in a row in the middle of the 2005-06 season and averaged a double-double in both those seasons. But it does show that Hunt has settled into his role as a complimentary scorer and defensive leader on this year’s team.
“I just want to do what my team needs me to do,” Hunt said recently. “I have to rebound, play defense and score when I get the opportunity.”
In addition to his points and rebounds, Hunt continues to be the Pack’s top all-around contributor in a variety of statistical categories. Over the last four games also has five assists, seven blocks and four steals.
“He’s doing all of the things we need him to do,” Carter said.
HUNT NOMINATED: The Wolf Pack media services department nominated Hunt for the Western Athletic Conference’s Player of the Week award this week for his effort against Portland. Hunt had 15 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal in just 27 minutes in the win over the Pilots.
The award, though, went to Hawaii’s Zane Johnson, who scored 18 points against Auburn, 14 against Xavier and 27 against Clemson. He averaged 19.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.7 steals for the week as Hawaii went 2-1 in the Diamondhead Classic.
RUN SURPRISES CARTER: Carter admitted after the Portland game that he had no idea his team went on a 22-0 run during the victory.
“I didn’t realize it was 22 points,” Carter said. “That’s a lot of points. 22 is pretty impressive I had no idea it was that much. All I was doing was trying to keep the pressure on them.”
Forgive Carter for not paying close attention to the scoreboard during the Pack’s impressive run last Thursday night against the Pilots in the 78-60 victory. It all happened so quickly. The Pack turned a 12-8 lead with 14 minutes to play in the first half into a 34-8 advantage with 8:30 to go.
Thanks to the 22-point run, the Pack had 40 points (they led 40-12) in the first 14 minutes of the game and seemingly were on their way to their first 100-point game since a 100-92 victory on March 4, 2010 against New Mexico State. The Pack, though, scored just 30 points over the final 26 minutes of the game as starting point guard Deonte Burton sat the bench for all but three minutes of the second half because of foul trouble.
BENCH VASTLY IMPROVED: Carter said last week that this year’s team has “the deepest bench” he’s had since becoming head coach before the 2009-10 season.
“We’ve always had good players coming off our bench,” Carter said. “But we’ve only been able to go one through seven or eight. Now I can go one through 10 or 11.”
The Pack bench combined to play 74 minutes against Portland to score 25 points and pull down eight rebounds with six assists, three steals and a block. The Pack had four reserves score between five and seven points. Keith Fuetsch and Jordan Finn each had five points as Burton’s replacement at point guard, Kevin Panzer had six points on two 3-pointers and Devonte Elliott had seven points.
Elliott, who was averaging just 1.5 points and 1.5 rebounds a game this year, had one of his best overall games in his two-year Pack career with seven points on 2-of-3 shooting, two rebounds, two assists, two steals, one block and no turnovers in 13 minutes as Hunt’s understudy.
The 25 points equals the single-game high for the Pack this season (they also had 25 against Pacific on Nov. 17).
The Pack leaders off the bench this year have been Panzer (4.8 points), Jordan Burris (2.5 points), Elliott (1.9 points), Fuetsch (1.7), Finn (1.6) and Patrick Nyeko (1.4).
“A deep bench is a good thing to have,” Carter said.
DEFENSE STINGY: The Wolf Pack’s defense has also shown vast improvement this year.
The Pack is allowing opponents just 63.2 points a game this year after allowing 71.2 a year ago. Opponents are also shooting just .404 from the field (.426 last year). The Pack is also forcing an average of 13.9 turnovers this year (12.4 last year).
“We are doing a good job of converting our defense to offense,” Hunt said. “It’s helping us get easy baskets.”
The Wolf Pack has not held opponents under 70 points a game since the 2008-009 season (66.1 a game). That season ended a streak of five out of six years when the Pack held opponents under 70 points a game. When the Pack was going to the NCAA Tournament four years in a row from 2003-04 through 2006-07, it held opponents to an average of 64.9 points. The past two seasons (2009-10 and 2010-11) the Pack has allowed an average of 73.2 points a game.
“In the past we had such great scoring teams so maybe some players on those teams would take a play off (on defense) now and then,” Hunt said. “Everybody wants to play defense now. This team has the best team defense of any team I’ve played on here.”
Hunt has always been one of the Pack’s top defensive players since he first stepped on the court at Nevada in 2008-09. He is already the Pack’s career leader in blocks with 217 (Fazekas is second with 192) and is seventh in rebounds with 801 (Ric Herrin is sixth at 815).
“We know defense can win games,” Hunt said. “Your shot is not always going to fall on some nights. Offense won’t always be there for you. But defense will be there for you night after night. We know defense can win games on those nights when your shot isn’t going down.”