Before the season kicked off, Desmond Cambridge of Nevada discussed the lessons he learned from training against Jalen Harris, Lindsey Drew, Jazz Johnson and Nisré Zouzoua last year.
Cambridge trained against the four players – who each earned an All-Mountain West award – each day of last season as a Division I transfer who had to redshirt under NCAA rules. The main lesson?
“The biggest thing they can possibly teach me is slow down my game, play at 65 percent,” said Cambridge. “It has helped me improve my decision making, shot selection, everything. You see the game slower and see the game as it is.”
However, Cambridge looks to accelerate a little earlier this season. In Nevada’s first five games, Cambridge fought frequent foul problems and featured a fragile shot selection, rushing into shots with low percentage. That leads to less than his usual level of play as Cambridge averages only 9.7 points per game while only making up 18.2 percent of the three. But that trend has changed in recent games, with Cambridge posting 27 and 24 points in its last two contests. He reached 13 three in those two games, becoming the second Nevada player to make at least six three straight games this century. What changed for a transfer from Brown University?
“He’s learned to get better shots because he’s a really good shooter,” said Nevada coach Steve Alford. “But like all really good shooters, you won’t make up for grabs, high volume of bad shots. He’s still a young player, and he and (Oregon State transfer) Warren (Washington) haven’t played in a long time. The rust is studying the good shots versus the bad shots, studying the system, learning the grooves. It’s a lot different from last year being a scout team and this year being a starter. It’s very, very different. The pressure is different, things in the game are different, and now people people like Des are at the top of scouting reports for many teams. How do you handle being targeted by other teams defensively? “
Cambridge struggled with that responsibility from the start but not too late. He was a key part of Nevada’s 69-66 win over Nebraska, the Wolf Pack’s top win of the season. But it was his only effort in Nevada’s first five games. He’s held with one digit in the other four. In the team’s first three matches, Cambridge had four more fouls each. But avoiding fouls in defense and playing smarter in attack has unlocked the huge potential the staff sees in the 6-foot-tall winger.
“It’s great because he’s a prolific goalscorer,” Alford said of Cambridge’s improvement. “He scored over 1,000 points at Brown in the Ivy League, and he turned on our team last year in the scouting team. We know we got a very good goalscorer, and we think he will team up with Jalen. Obviously that is not the case. I want to congratulate Jalen and wish him all the best in Toronto I think he’s going to have a great career.
“But it made our score smaller, and I think Des is one of those people who should fill that role. Initially, he faced that pressure. He got into bad trouble a lot in our first three or four games, which disrupted the flow and the rhythm. The goalscorer has to be out there and get a good flow of play. In the last trip, he got into the flow, he had no problems and he learned good shots from bad shots, which is always important. “
That shot choice appears to be the biggest difference in Cambridge’s early-season game with its newer production. Cambridge relies heavily on 3-point shots, with 57 of 90 field goal attempts coming from outside the line. The number is even higher in the last two matches with 24 3-pointers in 34 field goal attempts. Alford had no problem with Cambridge’s 3-point effort as long as it was a quality shot, and the coach praised his Cambridge team-mates for helping him get the better of his shot.
“If you look at the numbers, I don’t care how good you are as a shooter, if you take a good shot you’re going to make more than you would make when you take a shot that is contested,” Alford said. “He’s doing a much better job of getting better shots, and when he does, he’s a good shooter like the one in the league. He has to keep doing that, and his team-mates become familiar with who he is and how he is. played and they did a better job of finding him. They filtered more for him, the ball moved and attacked in the last three or four games we got a better rhythm. “
Cambridge could line up for Friday’s other big game against the Air Force, Mountain West’s opener for both teams. The Falcons generally play a 3-2 combat zone, which tends to result in open fire for 3-point shooters like Cambridge. This will be a new challenge for Wolf Pack, who have never seen a battle zone this season
“I have to see if our men can handle it and continue to move forward offensively,” said Alford.
Cambridge is more than just a one-dimensional player. Alford praised his defense, and Cambridge scored three steals in the 79-72 Wolf Pack win in San Diego on Monday. That includes a major heist with about 4 minutes to play with the tied game. The theft led to Nevada’s headlight basket. The Wolf Pack was never left behind. While Cambridge knows he is counted on to score goals, he wants to make sure he gives Nevada a full effort.
“I definitely have to score goals, but in the end, I trust my team,” Cambridge said before the season started. “We’ve all worked hard to implement our offenses and teach new people what to do. Our big players, Warren and KJ (Hymes), we will be able to throw the ball more, and we will be the more thorough offense. Even though we are not guard-oriented like last year, we will still collect a lot of points. “
Friday’s game of Nevada against the Air Force is the first of two in three days against the Falcons. Due to COVID-19, MW is playing the conference season in two game series. While that fast turnaround was unusual for most college players, it wasn’t for Cambridge. The Ivy League plays conference games on consecutive days (Friday and Saturday) to reduce missed classes. While that game was against different opponents, Cambridge got used to that format while at Brown.
“You get into the mindset that you only play the game to win,” said Cambridge. “You gave your all in that first game because you were trying to win that game, but at Brown we will look for another team. The Thursday before the Friday game and right after the game. It gets pretty intense in back-to-back play. Your body. It’s used to it. It can definitely be done. But in this situation, because we play two games in a row, the same team, I think it creates a different situation because you try to beat the same team twice, and it can be difficult to do. “
Columnist Chris Murray provides insight into Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.