In preparation for Nevada’s game against New Mexico this weekend, Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman made sure his team’s scoreboard was lit in practices and the pregame shootaround. One box read 85. The other 58.
That was the final score the first time Nevada played New Mexico, the Wolf Pack’s only defeat this season. It came in lopsided fashion, a 27-point beatdown to a below-.500 opponent. Musselman knew his team remembered that loss. But he lit the scoreboard anyway to send his players a message.
“That we got smacked; that’s basically the message he was trying to send,” Wolf Pack center Trey Porter said. “That’s one of the worst losses I’ve had in my career. All-around it just felt bad and seeing it up there it was a spark for a lot of guys. We can’t let that happen against us. We’re too old and veteran. The score should never be that bad.”
That score was that bad in the rematch between Nevada and New Mexico on Saturday night at Lawlor Events Center, only in reverse. The Wolf Pack drubbed the Lobos, 91-62, returning the favor from its loss in early January, only pasting New Mexico by two points more than its 27-point defeat earlier this season.
“We came into it to not only prove to them but prove to ourselves that it wasn’t us,” Cody Martin said of their play in the first game. “We wanted to prove to ourselves that we could play a lot better, make more shots, figure out zone or man, rebound with anybody. It was more of a game to just prove to ourselves than prove anything to them.”
It didn’t take very long to deliver that message. The Wolf Pack, playing in front of 11,197 fans, the 15th largest in Lawlor Events Center history, opened the game on a 25-4 run and had basically sealed the final result before all of the fans had settled into their seats. While the offense was good, Nevada’s defense, which had been so-so the prior to games, led the way.
New Mexico scored just four points on its first 27 possessions, missing 16 of its first 18 shots while mixing in nine turnovers.
“I thought the defense was everything; the defense and rebounding” said Musselman, who team had a 49-35 edge on the glass. "I thought we were really tough tonight. We were embarrassed last game, and that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re not happy with your play. You’re supposed to come out and play like that. The truth of the matter is we had 91 points and only made six threes. If we make a little more, the margin would be higher.”
Despite the average 3-point shooting night, Nevada still had an excellent offensive game, its fifth in a row. The Wolf Pack scored 51 first-half points and made 50 percent of its shots, including 6-of-20 3-pointers. Porter tallied a career high at Nevada with 20. Caleb Martin also scored 20, with Jazz Johnson (13), Jordan Caroline (13), Cody Martin (13) and Tre’Shawn Thurman (10) hitting double figures. Nevada was aggressive from the start, its 20 3-point attempts being its fourth fewest this season. The goal was to get to the rim with "reckless abandon," Musselman said.
“We did not want to be the non-aggressive team tonight,” he added. “I didn’t care if we had 10 charges to start the game. We just did not want to settle, and whoever was on the floor we wanted them to be the five most aggressive people in the building.”
Musselman’s players fulfilled that wish by blitzing New Mexico early. The Wolf Pack led by 25 at halftime and saw its lead swell to 32 early in the second half. New Mexico’s 1-3-1 zone gave Nevada fits in the first matchup, but the Wolf Pack implemented a new play – it was called “Touchdown” – that shredded the Lobo defense. Nevada’s improved zone offense of late has been a pleasant sight for Musselman.
“We picked their defense apart with our zone offense,” he said.
The Wolf Pack gave some of its lead back late in the game after the Martin twins and Caroline headed to the bench. But given how the Wolf Pack lost to New Mexico earlier this season, the Wolf Pack stars begged to get back into Saturday's game even with the final fate being decided. That brought a smile to Musselman’s face, although he didn't put them back in the action.
“With 3:30 left, Cody and Caleb and JC got in the faces of the other guys and said, ‘If you’re not going to defend like we do, we want back in the game,’” Musselman said. “When I heard that I said, ‘Wow. That’s pretty special.’ To hear those guys literally upset New Mexico had scored a couple of buckets in a row and Cody and Caleb wanted back in the game and wanted to get after me, that’s impressive.”
Nevada improved to 23-1 overall and 10-1 in the Mountain West while New Mexico fell to 10-13 and 4-7. It was the Wolf Pack’s 15th straight home win, three shy of the school record set in 2003-04. It also might have been Nevada’s sweetest victory this season considering what New Mexico did to it five weeks prior.
“Everybody had something to prove in this game,” Caleb Martin said. “We wanted to prove it was a fluke showing on our end the first game. It’s great to come out like that and come out with a lead like that and have guys play some of their best basketball from the jump.”
Wolf Pack swept by Lobos
Wolf Pack women’s basketball got behind early and couldn’t catch up to New Mexico on Saturday.
Nevada dropped an 85-74 decision to the Lobos after falling behind 8-0 early and trailing by nine after the first quarter and 13 at half. New Mexico shot 58.5 percent from the field, including 8-of-19 threes.
Four Wolf Pack players reached double figures with Imani Lacy tallying a career-high 20 points and six rebounds. Camariah King added 13 points and Da’Ja Hamilton and Jade Redmon tallied 10 each.
Nevada (8-14, 4-7 MW) shot 42.9 percent from the field, including 8-of-22 from three. New Mexico (19-3, 9-2) out-scored the Wolf Pack by nine points at the free throw line.
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.