Re-focused Pack to host tough Boise State

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RENO — Eric Musselman wanted his Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team to learn something from last Wednesday’s 85-63 loss at Fresno State.

“I had a conversation with my college coach after that game and he told me, ‘Win or lose, it has to be a learning experience,’” said Musselman, whose Wolf Pack will host the Boise State Broncos tonight (7 p.m.) at Lawlor Events Center.

Hank Egan, who coached Musselman at the University of San Diego in the late 1980s and later was an assistant to Musselman with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, was in Colorado Springs, Colo., to watch the Pack play at Air Force on Saturday. Egan also coached at Air Force before going to San Diego.

“What he told me helped me refocus our staff and our team,” Musselman said. “So I asked me myself, ‘What can we learn from that game?”

What did Musselman want his Wolf Pack to learn from the 22-point loss at Fresno? He wanted them to forget it ever happened.

“He told us to just leave it in the past,” Wolf Pack freshman Cameron Oliver said. “He said, ‘You can’t get it back so move on and be ready for the next game.’”

“He told us to just go on to the next game and focus on Air Force and make sure we get the win,” Wolf Pack freshman guard Lindsay Drew said.

The Wolf Pack, 10-6 overall and 2-2 in the Mountain West, seemingly listened to its coach and routed Air Force 86-63. The Pack never trailed in the game as Oliver had 12 points and 12 rebounds and Tyron Criswell had 19 points and seven boards.

“We were determined to get that Fresno hangover out of the way,” Musselman said.

The 23-point victory at Air Force was the Pack’s most lopsided win in Mountain West play since joining the conference in 2012-13. It was the Pack’s biggest win in conference since it whipped San Jose State 81-57 in the Western Athletic Conference on Jan. 12, 2012.

Boise State currently has the most momentum in the Mountain West with a nine-game winning streak. The Broncos, 12-4 overall and tied with San Diego State and New Mexico atop the conference at 3-0, has not lost a game since dropping a 68-59 decision to Arizona on Nov. 29.

“Boise State is the hardest team to prepare for in the Mountain West because they can score, one through five (all five positions),” Musselman said.

The Broncos’ most explosive scorer is 6-foot-9 junior James Webb. Webb, who has averaged 24.2 points a game over his last five games, is fifth in the Mountain West in scoring at 16.6 points a game. He also leads the Mountain West in rebounding at 8.4 a game.

“He’s a special player,” Musselman said. “He can do a multitude of things. Even if they never ran a play for him he’d still find a way to score because he understands spacing and he plays so hard.”

Webb , the Mountain West’s Newcomer of the Year a year ago when he averaged 11.2 points a game, scored 22 points and was 9-of-11 from the floor in a 78-46 victory over the Wolf Pack last season in Boise. That was the only game the Pack played against Boise State a year ago. Boise State has won four of the last five games between the two teams though the Pack still owns a commanding 40-25 edge in the series, which began in 1977.

Webb, though, isn’t the only Boise State player who concerns Musselman. Anthony Drmic, a 6-6 senior, is averaging 13.8 points and 4.0 rebounds a game. Nick Duncan, a 6-8 junior, is averaging 11.6 points and 4.0 rebounds and point guard Mikey Thompson, a 6-4 senior from Canyon Springs High in Las Vegas, averages 11.0 points and a Mountain West-leading 4.6 assist a game. Chandler Hutchinson, a 6-7 sophomore, also adds 8.0 points and 4.9 rebounds a game.

“They can score at every position,” Musselman said.

“Boise is great in transition,” Musselman said. “53 percent of their shots in transition are threes and they make 40 percent of those. So we have to find guys in transition. They present a lot of problems.”

The Wolf Pack is heading into one of its toughest stretches of the season. After playing Boise State on Wednesday, the Wolf Pack will go to Wyoming on Jan. 20, will host UNLV on Jan. 23 and San Diego State on Jan. 26 and then must go to Utah State on Jan. 30 and Colorado State on Feb. 6.

“We understand winning games in the Mountain West is hard,” Musselman said. “We have to play almost flawless basketball to beat teams that are real good. Our next four games (Boise, Wyoming, UNLV, San Diego State) are going to be difficult.”

The Wolf Pack is 6-0 at home this season and hasn’t lost at Lawlor since a 78-62 loss to Colorado State on March 4, 2015.

“Not too many people expect us to win this game (against Boise State),” said Pack guard Marqueze Coleman, who’s fourth in the Mountain West at 17.9 points a game. “But we love it like that because we always have a chip on our shoulder.”


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