After missing Nevada’s game last weekend against South Dakota State with a concussion, the Wolf Pack’s best 3-point shooter, Jazz Johnson, also may miss Nevada’s contest against Akron this Saturday at Lawlor Events Center
“I think Jazz is day-to-day,” Wolf Pack head coach Musselman said Wednesday. “We’ll just keep evaluating, see where he is, both from a medical standpoint and, ‘Where’s his wind? Where’s his confidence? Obviously we have a break coming up after this as well.”
Nevada has another full week off before playing Utah next weekend, so the Wolf Pack could play it cautiously and sit out Johnson, whose value to the team was shown in the close win over South Dakota State. Nevada made just 10-of-39 3-pointers in the 72-68 victory.
“I don’t think I needed to not have him against South Dakota State to understand that,” Musselman said of Johnson's importance to the team. “When you sit there and look at the cumulative stats, he’s our third-leading scorer. On any team when you lose your third-leading scorer and a guy who shoots such a high percentage from the 3-point area you’re going to miss a lot. Certainly, we’re a different team when he’s available and able to suit up. He’s a threat from three and opens up driving angles for other people.”
Johnson is averaging 12.6 points per game and shooting 57.8 percent from the field, including 54.3 percent from three.
Looking for a quick start
Nevada has trailed at halftime in three of its last four games, and the one time it did lead at intermission – by two points over Grand Canyon – the Wolf Pack dropped into a 11-0 deficit to start the game. Nevada is looking to get off to a better start against Akron.
“We realize we have to come out and play harder each and every game in the first half,” senior forward Jordan Caroline said. “We’ve been working on it. Obviously we have to keep improving because it’s been like four games in a row now. I wouldn’t say we got complacent, but it’s something we definitely have to improve on.”
Nevada has rallied to win each of its last four games, and Musselman said fans who are expecting his team to play perfectly from start to finish are being unrealistic.
“I watch games every night and you’re not going to play perfect basketball through 40 minutes,” Musselman said. “What I’ve found is even when you’re 11-0 and ranked top 10, there are people out there who are always going to say, ‘This guy should play more,’ or ‘These three guys should play more,’ or ‘You’re not off to a good start’ or ‘You don’t have a good zone offense.’ You just block it out and until all of those people want to watch seven hours of film with us, it’s kind of meaningless is how I looked at it.
“We’re not going to play perfect basketball for 40 minutes, and Duke’s not going to play for 40 minutes and they have close games all the time through 30 minutes and then the game changes at some point. We went through a stretch where we were tired, too. Not happy with how we played the whole game against South Dakota State and hopefully we play well enough to win Saturday.”
Caleb Martin hot streak?
Caleb Martin is averaging 18.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game, all in line with last year’s numbers when he was the Mountain West player of the year, but he hasn’t been thrilled with his recent play.
“I have to be way more productive, way more efficient,” Martin said after the win over South Dakota State. “I just suck. I suck right now. Suck. Suck. Suck. I have to get a lot better."
Martin's field-goal shooting has dropped from 45.4 percent last year to 41.2 percent this season, most of that decline coming at the 3-point line (32.3 percent this year, down from 40.3 percent last year). Musselman has largely been pleased with Martin’s play and expects him to get hot shortly.
“The last game he played point guard and he doesn’t even skeleton or dry run point,” Musselman said. “Jazz gets some backup minutes and Cody (Martin) got in foul trouble and there was no Cody and no Jazz and I put him in pick-and-rolls and tried to run some stuff with him. He’s going to be fine. I feel bad for the opponent when he busts out because when he gets hot, he’s going to get hot and stay hot.”
Mountain West-Atlantic 10 Challenge
CBS Sports reported Thursday the MW will begin an annual challenge series with the Atlantic 10.
That series will replace the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge, which was shuttered after this season. The MW-A10 Challenge will begin in the 2020-21 season, CBS Sports reported, and is a two-year deal with the option to extend it an additional two seasons through 2023-24.
The series is expected to feature 10 games each season (the MW has 11 teams; the A-10 has 14) and would be played in late November or early December, with each conference hosting five contests. The goal is to align the best teams in each conference against each other to increase their odds of getting an NCAA Tournament at-large berth.
Three days off for Christmas
After Nevada’s game against Akron, the Wolf Pack will get a three-day basketball break over Christmas. The break is mandatory, per NCAA rules this season, although it doesn’t have to extend over Christmas.
“My staff basically told me it’s Christmas, but the more research I did I think it’s basically a three-day block over a month and a half,” Musselman said. “But most programs are using it for Christmas. My staff definitely wanted me to think it was only a Christmas three-day break. I can tell you that. I tried to do a little bit of research and I think there’s a little more wiggle room than my staff led me to believe.”
Over the years, the Wolf Pack has almost always practiced on Christmas, so this will be a nice respite during the holidays.
“Not everybody is going home,” Musselman said. “We have some guys who financially can’t do it and logistically can’t do it. It will be good for everybody to get away from it, relax your mind, rest your legs and come back and get ready for Utah and get ready for conference. I think it’s a really good time for the student-athletes. They just finished finals, so finals end, you have your game Saturday and then you can kind of get away for a little bit.”
Caroline’s gift for JC
Caroline was asked what he was getting his 1-year-old son, J.C., for Christmas this year.
“A Fisher Price hoop,” he said. “I feel like an old dad now.”
Musselman said he remembered getting his first hoop as a kid, “but more importantly for Little JC and King Oliver making sure those two guys in time understand they always have a Wolf Pack offer.”
King Oliver is the 2-year-old son of former Wolf Pack standout Cameron Oliver.
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.