Nevada expects to be at full strength for a game for the first time this season when it takes on UNLV on Sunday in the opener of a two-game series at Lawlor Events Center.
The Wolf Pack was without starting power forward Zane Meeks for each of its last three games due to knee soreness, but he's on track to play against the Rebels. And starting shooting guard Desmond Cambridge Jr., who attended his grandmother's funeral in Nashville, Tenn., this week, is scheduled to return to Reno on Friday.
"Hopefully we go into Sunday about as full force as we've been all year long," Nevada coach Steve Alford said.
Meeks is third on the team in scoring and first in rebounding and was missed as the Wolf Pack was swept at Wyoming last weekend. The 6-foot-9 sophomore, who also is one of Nevada's best 3-point shooters, is one of the few players on the Wolf Pack roster with experience playing the school's rival, UNLV. Meeks also missed the series finale against Fresno State and has had two weeks off to rest knee soreness, which prevented him from playing in those games.
"He's practiced this week, so as long as continues to trend as he's trending now in terms of health, he'll be available for this week," Alford said. "He's obviously somebody who can stretch the floor for us in terms of shooting the basketball. You have to guard him, and he's a very good rebounder. He's continuing to grow defensively, but he does a very good job of rebounding. Just having another big, a 6-9, almost 6-10 kid we can throw out there is a benefit because we obviously didn't have that against Wyoming."
Cambridge, who has started all 17 games for Nevada, learned of the passing of his grandmother prior to Nevada's series at Wyoming last week. He stayed with the team and played in those games before returning home. The junior averaged 16 points and 4.5 rebounds in the losses.
"I really appreciate how he handled last week in Laramie and gave us everything he had when I knew his thoughts and his mind was elsewhere, and it should have been," Alford said. "He's been gone the last several days back to Nashville for his grandmother's funeral. He gets back today, so hopefully he gets back safely and we have him in practice the next two days."
That marked the second time a Nevada player lost a family member to death this season as K.J. Hymes briefly left the team during non-conference play as well. Alford said this has been a hard year for his players, who have been dealing with COVID-19 protocols during the season.
"You literally go to these hotels and are ordering food behind a plexiglass," Alford said. "You're just kind of pointing. That's different. How you sit at tables is different. You're not really facing people and not being able to interact with people. Wyoming has a huge cinema right next to the hotel that you'd usually be able to do a movie night with the guys. You're not allowed to do any of those things this year. It's really hard because when you're on the road, these kids are hanging out in their hotel rooms. Its 24/7 unless we're having a film session or going to practice. That's hard. That's a difficult thing to do.
"I think that's one reason why you're seeing some really odd scores across the country. It's just a strange year and you add the normal life things that happen to student-athletes, whether it's deaths in the family, illnesses in the family, loss of jobs, a lot of things hit these young people with their home life. When you throw that at them and have all this isolation they're going through, it's imperative as coaches you spend as much time communicating with them as you can, and we've tried to do that the best that we can."
Nevada freshman Daniel Foster, who suffered a shoulder injury in training camp, made his college debut last week against Wyoming. He'll suit up again for the Wolf Pack. This week's series will mark the first time the Wolf Pack has had all 11 of its scholarship players healthy and available.
Moses Wood faces hometown team
UNLV sophomore Moses Wood, a Reno native who graduated from Galena High, stepped into the starting lineup for the Rebels earlier this week and was impressive. Wood initially signed with Tulane out of high school after Nevada didn't offer him a scholarship. He transferred to UNLV last season and was forced to redshirt.
Nevada's coach in both of those instances was Eric Musselman, but the team's new coach, Alford, said he's been impressed by Wood's all-around game. This will be the first time Wood will play against Nevada.
"We found a weird stat where he's one of the best shot blockers by minute," Alford said. "That's a weird stat for a 6-8 player. He's done a really good job of using his length defensively. And I think he's just made a lot of big shots for them, not just being inserted into the starting lineup, but getting more minutes. He's kind of been a stretch four. You can say they're playing four guards. Lots of ways of saying it, but he's giving them good energy and he's giving them somebody who can stretch the floor."
Wood is averaging 5.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 1.0 blocks per game while shooting 41.8 percent from the field, including 40 percent on threes. The 6-foot-8 wing player has scored in double figures in each of UNLV's last three games and is a nice complement to the Rebels' core of David Jenkins Jr., Bryce Hamilton, Caleb Grill and Nick Blake.
"When you line up besides guys like Grill and Jenkins and Hamilton and Blake who are pretty established scorers, that really helps you when you have a guy who you forget about or don't rotate to and can knock down shots, and he's doing that," Alford said.
Wood is the son of former Nevada basketball player, David Wood, who went on to play in the NBA. Wood's younger brother, Josiah, was briefly a walk-on with the Wolf Pack.
Nevada ready for some home cooking
After playing six of its last eight games on the road, the Wolf Pack is home for six of its next eight. Nevada's next four games are at Lawlor Events Center, the longest homestand of the season, although Alford said playing UNLV and Boise State, which leads the MW, isn't exactly easy pickings.
"It's nice to be home instead of traveling, but then you're playing a very hot UNLV team for two games and then you get a Boise team for two games," Alford said. "It is what it is, and this year is all about getting in games. We're so thankful that we're getting games in. Our guys just have to keep getting better."
Nevada is 5-2 at home this season and 5-5 away from Lawlor Events Center. Alford said he was pleased with how his team was growing prior to last week's sweep at Wyoming and is hopeful that ends up being a bump in the road rather than a precursor of future issues.
"We took a step back and now we have to take a step forward if we're going to have a chance in this next series against UNLV," Alford said.
You can watch Steve Alford's full weekly press conference below.