By Ken Cross
The Nevada Wolf Pack under coach Eric Musselman have become a mainstay above the Mountain West and as the conference has developed depth once again this season, the glass becomes half full as the MW looks to return to at least a three-bid league by the time the NCAATournament bracket is released on March 11.
The Wolf Pack has risen to 7-0 atop the league and then 18-3 overall as they returned to the AP Top 25 this week with a No. 23 rating. In a short time, Musselman has turned the fortunes of the Wolf Pack around and on Saturday night, the sell out crowd in Lawlor Events Center saw the character of this team and program manifest itself in a 74-68 win over second place Boise State.
“It was an unbelievable game to watch for both the 11,000 here and the national TV audience,” said Musselman, who has guided the Pack to 13 consecutive MW wims, “It’s great exposure for the university and anyone who watched the game saw two heavy weight teams. It went back and forth.”
Musselman has turned Reno into a basketball Mecca since he came there there three years ago. He talked about his health club and that no one was a season ticket holder and now the entire club has season tickets and wears Wolf Pack hoops gear. The affection that the city has embraced the program with was shown in the sell out in the show down with Boise State.
This was a character check against a quality Broncos team that fell to 14-0 and 6-2. Caleb Martin and Jordan Caroline combined for 50 points as Martin scored 28 on 11-of-22 shooting while Caroline netted 22 points and grabbed nine boards.
The two solidified the team as Boise State hit them with a 14-2 run out of halftime to take a 43-38 lead on an Alex Hobbs layup with 16:22 to play. Nevada was kind of shocked at the beginning and then they lost their continuity in starting 1-of-3 with four turnovers which saw Musselman call time out at the end of the stretch and it seemed to settle the Pack with immediacy.
“We really really defended well in that first half and then they went on that 14-2 run,” he said, as Boise State shot 38.7 percent int he first half and went 2-of-12 from behind the arc, “At that point, your team is tested in how they are going to respond and I thought we responded tremendously.”
From there, Nevada stretched the lead to five on three occasions as Caleb Martin made a layup with 8:35 remaining to give the Wolf Pack a 54-49 lead. Chandler Hutchinson and Alex Hobbs matched Nevada scores to tie the game three times from there.
Then after Hutchinson scored on a layup to give Boise State a 63-60 lead with 4:35 to play, Nevada survived it’s ultimate test.
Once again, the Wolf Pack bounced off the mat as Caleb Martin scored five points in the nest 1:12 as his three and a layup gave Nevada a 65-63 margin.
At that point, the Wolf Pack defense and Martin separated as Nevada held Boise State to 1-of-3 and three turnovers down the stretch. Martin made a jumper and the Wolf Pack made 7-of-8 free throws to secure the win in the biggest MW confrontation of the season thus far.
“I thought we played with great desperation when we got down because they stole the momentum from us,” commented Martin, “They came out with a purpose in the second half. They caused us to turn the ball over. Tonight we did make threes and they didn’t and sometimes that happens.”