During halftime of Nevada’s game Wednesday night against UNLV, the Wolf Pack retired the number of one of its legends, Nick Fazekas, who became just the second player in program history to earn the honor.
But throughout the entire game, the Nevada trio of Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline showed why one day their numbers might also hang from the Lawlor Events Center rafters.
The Martin twins and Caroline pounded the rival Rebels early and often, combining for 67 points in No. 12/13 Nevada’s 89-73 rout of UNLV before 11,289 fans, the eighth-largest crowd in arena history. The seniors made a combined 24-of-44 shots, including 12-of-21 3-pointers, while devastating UNLV from the start. They scored 26 of Nevada’s first 28 points and took 19 of its first 22 shots.
“Our big three played great,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said. “And when our big three play really good, we are a phenomenal basketball team. Those three guys – Jordan Caroline, Caleb Martin and Cody Martin – I thought were absolutely phenomenal, and we need those three to play really well in Logan on Saturday night.”
The victory marked Nevada’s sixth two-game sweep of UNLV in 32 seasons in which the Silver State rivals have faced twice in a season. It also allowed the Wolf Pack (26-2, 13-2) to stay one game ahead of Utah State (23-6, 13-3) heading into a de facto Mountain West regular-season title game Saturday.
Wednesday’s contest was never in doubt. The Wolf Pack came out hot offensively, with Cody Martin stretching the floor early. The jack-of-all trades point guard hit two threes to open the scoring for Nevada and tallied eight of the team’s first 11 points. He finished with a career-high four made threes (out of six attempts) and scored a season-high 23 points to go with eight assists against only one turnover.
“If they let me have it, that’s cool with me,” Cody Martin said of being left open for three, where he's been strong over the last 10 games.
Martin’s ability to hit the three – he’s shooting better than 65 percent from beyond the arc since his game-winner at Boise State last month after hitting only 19 percent prior to that – opened things up for his twin brother as well as Caroline, who both got off to fast starts to bury UNLV (15-13, 9-7) from the outset.
“Whenever he’s aggressive like that, it’s way easier for me and Jordan and pretty much everyone,” Caleb Martin said. “He’s the point guard, he’s going to get his assists, he’s going to get his rebounds, but I tell him all the time to be aggressive, be ready to score and shoot the ball.”
Each of Nevada’s stars had that mindset against UNLV, which the Wolf Pack also blew out in the first half of their first matchup this season. In that game, Nevada led UNLV, 48-26, at intermission. In this game, the lead was nearly identical, a 46-28 edge. Caleb Martin paced the Wolf Pack with 24 points, hitting 6-of-11 threes, while grabbing four steals. Caroline notched another double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
“We want those three guys every night to be in attack mentality,” Musselman said. “We wrote that on our dry erase board: attack, attack, attack, don’t settle. I like how we went to the rim and I liked our ability to get our feet set and shoot three balls off the pass. It’s hard to have 20 assists in a college game and we did have 20 assists and I thought our ball movement was really good.”
Musselman was especially pleased with how his team reacted to UNLV’s man offense. The Wolf Pack almost exclusively faced zone during its first 25 games this season before San Diego State shocked Nevada by going man-to-man in a win last Wednesday over the Wolf Pack, which played with its poorest offensive night of the season. Fresno State also used an aggressive man defense Saturday, and while UNLV mixed things up, it didn’t matter which defense the Rebels were in. Nevada succeeded against both.
Musselman gave his team four new man-to-man offense plays for the UNLV game, which it executed perfectly.
“We have a pretty big binder of plays,” Musselman said with a smile. “My dad left me a big binder.”
While the big three accounted for most of Nevada’s offense, the Wolf Pack defense was stellar in the first half, limiting UNLV to 34.4 percent shooting, including 3-of-12 from three. The Rebels were far more effective in the second half, hitting 54.8 percent of its shots, and they grabbed 19 offensive rebounds over the full 40 minutes, the most Nevada has allowed this season. But Musselman didn’t seem overly concerned.
“At their place, I think they out-scored us by five in the second half and tonight they out-scored us by two,” he said. “We wanted to run, too. Our transition defense, it’s hard when you’re up and we took out our rim protection to play small-ball to open the floor for shooting and tried to out-score them in the second half and we were able to do that.”
Nevada shot 53.3 percent for the game, hitting exactly 16-of-30 shots in both the first and second half. The Wolf Pack canned 13-of-27 3-pointers and had nine steals that led to 17 UNLV turnovers. The Rebels cut Nevada's lead to 11 points near the end of the game before the Martin twins combined to score the Wolf Pack's next 11 points to seal the win.
The combination of Fazekas’ number being retired, a near-record crowd and a rare sweep of UNLV made Wednesday’s game one of the most memorable in Wolf Pack hoops history. Nevada also set a season attendance record of 151,926 fans over 14 games, besting the previous record of 150,674 fans over 18 games in 2005-06.
“There were a lot of people who couldn’t get in the building tonight,” Musselman said. “A lot. That’s a pretty cool thing. Normally when I pull up there are a couple hundred students. Tonight, there were probably over a thousand. When I went to lunch, there were kids 6 1/2 hours before tip-off waiting in the cold. This is what you envision.”
Perhaps the only downer on the night was Caroline barely missing the 2,000 career point mark. He was two points away when he walked to the free throw line with 33 seconds remaining, but missed both shots from the charity stripe.
“The moment was too big,” Caroline joked. “After I missed the first one, I missed the second one to try and get it back.”
Wolf Pack falls in Las Vegas
The Nevada women's basketball team fell behind UNLV early and was never able to catch up in a 67-58 loss in Las Vegas on Wednesday night.
The Lady Rebels (11-16, 9-7) led by as many as 25 points in the first half before taking a 20-point intermission edge. The Wolf Pack (10-16, 6-9) clawed within single-digits late in the game but never truly threatened UNLV, which salvaged a season split with its rival.
The Wolf Pack was held to 18 points in the first half and shot 43.8 percent from the field overall, including 0-of-5 from three. Nevada had nearly as many turnovers (18) as made baskets (21).
The Wolf Pack had three score in double figures, led by Terae Briggs’ team-high 14 points. Essence Booker, a freshman from Las Vegas, finished with a career-high 13 points, hitting 7-of-8 from the free throw line. Jade Redmon scored 11, extending her streak of consecutive games in double figures to 23. Redmon scored all 11 of her points in the second half.
Nevada returns to Lawlor Events Center for its final two regular-season home games, beginning with a 1 p.m. contest Saturday against Utah State.
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.