The best team in the Mountain West keeps winning and continues to wonder what’s wrong.
“That’s just because of our self expectations,” senior forward Caleb Martin said after the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 68-62 victory over the Akron Zips on Saturday at Lawlor Events Center. “We know we’re a lot better team. We hold ourselves to high standards.”
The Wolf Pack, now 12-0 on the season and ranked No. 1 in the Nevada Appeal‘s Mountain West men’s basketball rankings, has won each of its last four games by eight points or less. Nevada’s first eight victories were each by 10 points or more. The Wolf Pack has also failed to reach 80 points on offense over its last six games after exceeding 80 points in each of its first six games.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Martin said.
The top five teams in the rankings all stayed the same as a week ago. No. 2 Fresno State (9-2) beat both California (95-73) and UT Martin (93-53). No. 3 Utah State, now 9-3, lost to unbeaten Houston (10-0), 60-50, on the road while No. 4 San Diego State (7-4) rolled over BYU, 90-81, and No. 5 UNLV (6-4) beat Hawaii on the road, 73-59.
Fresno State has now won seven games in a row despite missing leading scorer Deshon Taylor (dislocated elbow) for the past three games. New Williams, a 6-foot-1 junior, had a career-high 19 points against Cal and followed that up with 19 points against UT Martin. Braxton Huggins, a 6-4 senior, had 18 points against Cal and 20 on six 3-pointers against UT Martin. Nate Grimes, a 6-8 junior, had 17 points against Cal and 14 against UT Martin and has now scored in double figures for five consecutive games.
Noah Blackwell, a 6-3 junior, has stepped up his game in Taylor’s absence, averaging 15.7 points and 7.7 assists the last three games. Blackwell had nine assists against Cal and eight against UT Martin.
“We’re having a lot of fun,” Williams told the Fresno Bee. “Our offense is stemming from our defense.”
Utah State started the season 5-0 but has gone 4-3 since. All three losses, though, were to tough opponents (BYU, Arizona State and Houston). Houston was ranked No. 21 in the nation by The Associated Press last week and the Aggies did lead 31-21 at halftime.
“That would have been a great win,” Utah State coach Craig Smith said. “We went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country.”
The Aggies, though, dropped to just 16-100 in their school’s history against Associated Press Top 25 teams with the loss to Houston. They will face another Top 25 team when they travel to Reno to play the Wolf Pack on Jan. 2 to open Mountain West play.
San Diego State’s game against BYU on Saturday was its first against the Cougars at home since 2011. Aztecs’ coach Brian Dutcher reminded his team this week San Diego State and BYU are former fierce rivals in the Mountain West.
“I told the players before the game, ‘The fans know more about this rivalry than you do,’” Dutcher said. ‘“You have to know this is a rivalry. I’m telling you it is.’”
The Aztecs listened to their coach and jumped out to a 52-38 halftime lead. Devin Watson scored 23 points and Matt Mitchell added 22 for San Diego State.
The last time BYU and San Diego State met in San Diego State’s Viejas Arena on Feb. 26, 2011, the starts of the game were Kawhi Leonard (Aztecs) and Jimmer Fredette (Cougars).
“I’m glad we got this series going again,” BYU coach Dave Rose said, whose Cougars will host the Aztecs next season in Provo, Utah. “It’s good for us.”
UNLV recovered from a 28-26 halftime deficit to turn back Hawaii in Honolulu. Joel Ntambwe, a 6-9 freshman, had 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Rebels.
“He still has a long ways to go but in the interim we’ll enjoy the growth,” UNLV coach Marvin Menzies told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “And we’ll roll with him when he’s hot.”
Ntambwe, who’s from Kinshasa of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has spent his high school career playing basketball in the United States in Kentucky, North Carolina and Florida for three different prep schools. His cousin is Emmanuel Mundiay of the New York Knicks.
“We always thought he had that potential when we recruited him,” Menzies said. “We didn’t think it would be in his freshman year but success breeds success.”
Boise State (5-7) jumped up a spot to No. 6 after losing by a point to Loyola Marymount (70-69) and beating Pacific (83-71). R.J. Williams, a 6-7 senior, had 21 points against Marymount and 17 against Pacific. Justinian Jessup, a 6-6 junior, had 15 points on three 3-pointers against Marymount and 20 points on four threes against Pacific.
New Mexico (5-6) fell a spot to No. 7 after losing to North Texas (74-65) and Pennsylvania (75-65). Anthony Mathis (6-3, senior) had 20 points on 11-of-11 free throw shooting against North Texas and had 13 points against Penn. The Lobos lost to North Texas despite enjoying a huge edge at the free throw line, making 26-of-31 to North Texas’s 10-of-14.
Pennsylvania player Jackson Donohue came away impressed with New Mexico’s fans and arena. “It’s just an amazing place to play,” Donohue said. “And loud. The fans are rabid.”
No. 8 Colorado State lost a close game on the road, 64-61 at Long Beach State. Nico Carvacho, though, had 23 points and a career-high 22 rebounds for the Rams. Carvacho now has five double-doubles in a row.
San Jose State (3-8) moved up a spot to No. 9 after dropping two close games on the road at Stanford (78-73) and Cal (88-80). Michael Steadman, a 6-10 junior, had 17 points and 11 rebounds against Stanford and 16 points and 13 boards against Cal. All five San Jose State starters scored 10 or more points against Stanford.
No. 10 Wyoming lost a pair of games to East Tennessee State (76-53) and UTEP (76-65). Wyoming senior Justin James, who leads the Cowboys in almost every statistical category this season, suffered through one of the worst individual games in recent Mountain West history against East Tennessee State.
James was 3-of-21 from the floor, missed all four of his 3-point attempts and four of his six free throw attempts and turned the ball over 10 times while playing all 40 minutes and scoring just eight points. The 6-7 guard recovered slightly against UTEP, scoring 22 points. But he did shoot just 6-of-17 from the floor and missed four of his five 3-point attempts while turning the ball over seven times.
Air Force dropped to the bottom of the rankings at No. 11 after a 71-50 loss at Michigan. The Falcons played 15 players in the game and trailed just 28-21 at the half. Air Force, though, turned the ball over 20 times and shot just 2-of-11 on threes and 6-of-12 from the free throw line.
The Nevada Appeal Mountain West men’s basketball rankings for the week of Dec. 23-30 ...
1. NEVADA (13-0): The Wolf Pack’s 86 points against Utah are its most since a 110-87 win over Massachusetts on Nov. 23, a span of six games. Last week: Nevada 86, Utah 71. This week: Utah State at Nevada (Wednesday); Nevada at New Mexico (Saturday).
2. UTAH STATE (10-3): Justin Bean, a 6-7 freshman, scored more points (12) against Eastern Oregon than he had all season long (10) combined. Last week: Utah State 84, Eastern Oregon 57. This week: Utah State at Nevada (Wednesday); Air Force at Utah State (Saturday).
3. FRESNO STATE (9-3): Fresno State’s seven-game winning streak came to an end with the loss to Utah Valley. Last week: Utah Valley 64, Fresno State 60. This week: Fresno State at San Jose State (Wednesday); Colorado State at Fresno State (Saturday).
4. SAN DIEGO STATE (7-5): Seniors Jeremy Hemsley and Devin Watson combined for four points (all by Watson) in 59 minutes against Brown. Last week: Brown 82, San Diego State 61. This week: Cal State Northridge at San Diego State (Tuesday); San Diego State at Boise State (Saturday).
5. UNLV (6-6): Kris Clyburn scored 21 points combined against Indians State and Bucknell but shot just 9-of-27. Last week: Indiana State 84, UNLV 79; Bucknell 97, UNLV 72. This week: Colorado State at UNLV (Wednesday); Wyoming at UNLV (Saturday).
6. BOISE STATE (5-8): Pat Dembley, a 6-1 junior in his first season at Boise, had 13 points against Oregon. Last week: Oregon 62, Boise State 50. This week: Boise State at Wyoming (Wednesday); San Diego State at Boise State (Saturday).
7. NEW MEXICO (5-6): Carlton Bragg, a 6-10 junior transfer from the Kansas Jayhawks, has played three games for the Lobos after becoming eligible two weeks ago and is averaging 11.7 points a game. Last week: No games. This week: New Mexico vs. University of the Southwest (Dec. 30); New Mexico at Air Force (Wednesday); Nevada at New Mexico (Saturday).
8. COLORADO STATE (5-7): Nico Carvacho, a 6-4 junior, is averaging a double-double (14.3 points, 12.6 rebounds) this season. Last week: No games. This week: New Mexico State at Colorado State (Dec. 30); Colorado State at UNLV (Wednesday); Colorado State at Fresno State (Saturday).
9. AIR FORCE (5-7): Chris Joyce, a 6-5 sophomore, had nine points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench against UC Riverside. Last week: Air Force 72, UC Riverside 60. This week: New Mexico at Air Force (Wednesday); Air Force at Utah State (Saturday).
10. SAN JOSE STATE (3-9): Oumar Barry’s 11 points led the Spartans against St. Mary’s. It is the fewest points to lead San Jose State in scoring in a game this season. Last week: Saint Mary’s 75, San Jose State 45. This week: Fresno State at San Jose State (Wednesday).
11. WYOMING (4-9): Trace Young, who hit a last-second, game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer, was making his college debut against Dixie State. The 6-9 forward had 16 points and six rebounds as well as four threes. Last week: Wyoming 65, Dixie State 63. This week: Boise State at Wyoming; Wyoming at UNLV (Saturday).