RENO — Effort is something Eric Musselman has preached since he took over the Nevada program last year, and opposing coaches always talk about how hard the Wolf Pack plays.
“From an effort standpoint, I haven’t felt there has ever been a lack of effort even for a short period of time,” Musselman told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “A lot of teams have five-minute periods where they don’t play hard, but I haven’t felt that way about our team.
“Maybe we’ve missed a defensive rotation or two or missed a couple of shots that has allowed an opponent to go on a small run. From an effort standpoint we have brought it for 40 minutes every night. Ever since I’ve been here we’ve stressed respect the game and respect the opponent.”
Musselman has a healthy dose of respect for UC Irvine (5-6), which invades Lawlor Events Center tonight for a 7 p.m. nonconference game.
The Anteaters have played six of their last seven games away from home, and their record reflects that. Irvine has played three ranked teams — Cal (75-65 loss), Arizona (79-57 loss) and Saint Mary’s (84-53 loss). They have played just four home games this season and won three of those.
“I have a lot of respect for Irvine,” Musselman said. “They are a well-coached team that won a lot of games last year. I’m sure coach (Russell) Turner will have them playing for a conference championship come March. They have lost some games, but their strength of schedule is as good as anybody in the conference.
“They have shooters, a 7-2 center who is really skilled and a couple of guards who can get to the basket.”
Ioannis Dimakopoulos, the 7-2 center, averages 9.5 points. He shoots 42.1 from beyond the arc. Tommy Rutherford is a force inside with his 66 percent average from the field and Jaron Martin and Max Hazard, the grandson of former UCLA star Walt Hazard can get to the rim. Martin also has 19 3-pointers this year.
The Anteaters are missing Luke Nelson (hamstring), who is the team’s best offensive player and returning Player of the Year. Nelson averaged 13.7 a game last year and had six 20-point outings. He has suited up but has yet to play.
“He could play, but I want him at 100 percent,” Irvine coach Russell Turner said. “Not playing is a disappointment and it’s killing him.
“We have to go on the road this time of year to make some money. That is the way it is. We don’t complain about it. Five wins is solid. We had a great chance to knock off Cal on the road (lost in overtime) and we had a tough game against Milwaukee (54-37) in the second day of a three-day tournament where we didn’t play well.”
Turner knows his team has its hands full.
“Nevada is a good team, and obviously they are playing really well,” Turner said. “They are coming off a tough road win.”
Irvine needs to figure out a way to contain senior guard Marcus Marshall and sophomore forward Cameron Oliver, who are averaging 20 and 16 points a game, respectively.
“When he (Marshall) and Cam Oliver play pick and roll, it’s hard thing for the opponent to know how to play those two guys.”
Musselman pointed out that hard bucket cuts by Jordan Caroline and D.J. Fenner make it even more difficult on defenses.”
The Anteaters may have some size up front, but Nevada can counter that with quickness and outside shooting.
“We don’t have traditional post guys who play with their back to the basket,” Musselman said. “We can step out and shoot the ball which draws them away from the basket.”