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Nevada vs. New Mexico: Three keys and a prediction

Colorado State
Cody Martin and the Wolf Pack get New Mexico in a rematch Saturday. (John Byne/Nevada athletics)

The Nevada basketball team plays New Mexico on Saturday in Reno. Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray breaks down the game with three keys to victory and his prediction.

New Mexico (10-12, 4-6 MW) at No. 6 Nevada (22-1, 9-1)

When: Wednesday, 3 p.m.

Where: Lawlor Events Center (11,536 capacity)

TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network/94.5 FM

Online: None

Betting line: Nevada by 20.5; total of 155.5

Three keys for Nevada to win

1. Defend the three: New Mexico is the highest volume 3-point shooting team in the Mountain West, averaging 26.8 treys per game and making those at a 35 percent rate, which is more solid than stellar. The Lobos have made double-digits 3-pointers in 11 games this season, although six of those came in the team’s first six games. New Mexico made 11-of-29 3-pointers in its 85-58 win over Nevada last month and out-scored the Wolf Pack by 21 points from beyond the arc. New Mexico has made 37.9 percent of its threes in its victories this season and 32.4 percent of its threes in its losses. Senior guard Anthony Mathis is the man to mark. He leads New Mexico with 15.8 points per game and has made 82-of-185 3-pointers this season (44.3 percent). The rest of the Lobos are loaded with average shooters, but Mathis is a game-changer if he gets hot from three (he made 5-of-14 in the win over Nevada).

2. Limit the turnovers: New Mexico does a good job of creating turnovers, averaging 14.5 per game. It hit that mark against Nevada, forcing 14 miscues in the first matchup, which was just two shy of the Wolf Pack’s season high. The Lobos had a 20-5 edge in points off turnovers in that win. Most of those weren’t exactly forced as the Wolf Pack was just lethargic and lackadaisical with the ball and made self-imposed mistakes it usually avoids. Nevada is coming off back-to-back games in which it has turned the ball over a combined nine times (New Mexico, by comparison has forced 31 turnovers over the last two games), so the Wolf Pack has been avoiding mistakes of late. That earlier matchup seems like an uncharacteristic outing for Nevada, but New Mexico does create a lot of turnovers with its press, so this is an area to track as the Wolf Pack looks to flip the script from its mistake-prone loss earlier this season.

3. Team ball: It would be natural for the Wolf Pack to come into this game fired up and seeking revenge after its shocking 27-point loss to New Mexico in January. But the Wolf Pack has to follow the template that has made the offense so successful over the last two weeks, and that’s great player and ball movement. If Nevada shares the ball and hits its goal of 200 passes per game, it will be successful against a New Mexico defense that has allowed opponents to shoot 45.4 percent from the field, which is a really bad mark. The Lobos also have been vulnerable in allowing offensive rebounds, pulling down just 71.7 percent of its opponents’ misses (255th in the nation). If Nevada avoids “hero ball,” it’ll have a good offensive night, and getting off to a hot start to get a sold-out crowd into things early would be a good thing as Wolf Pack fans should be frothing at the mouth for this game.

Prediction

Nevada 85, New Mexico 68: The first time these teams played I picked Nevada to win by 11 and the Wolf Pack lost by 27, so what do I know (the betting line was 15, though, so I was at least on the right side there). I’ll guarantee you Nevada isn’t going to lose by 27 in this one, but the 20.5-point line seems a tad high. New Mexico played Nevada competitive in their one matchup last season, too, losing by three at Lawlor Events Center. The Lobos have the athleticism and size to battle with Nevada and it should bring some confidence into the game, but the Lobos simply have not played very well for much of this season, the lone exception coming in its win over Nevada five weeks ago. Can New Mexico channel that caliber of game and shock the Wolf Pack for a second time? I don’t see it. Not with Nevada improving against the zone defense and Caleb Martin being this aggressive. The Wolf Pack’s offense has been on fire the last four games, especially the last two, and New Mexico’s preferred up-tempo pace plays in the Wolf Pack’s favor, too. I’ll take Nevada by 17. Season record: 22-1

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