A year ago, the Nevada Wolf Pack hung two of the biggest losses on UNLV in series history.
The Pack won by 27 at home, 104-77, and by 36, 94-58, on the road en route to its first Mountain West regular-season championship.
Expect things to be different Wednesday (8 p.m., CBS Sports Network) when No. 23 Nevada (20-4, 9-1) hosts UNLV (16-7, 5-5).
The Rebels, who pieced together a team under Marvin Menzies last season, have added point guard Jordan Johnson and top-notch front-line players 7-foot freshman Brandon McCoy (18 points, 10 rebounds per game) and 6-10 Shakur Juiston (14.6, 9.7).
“Yeah, I mean they are talented and have a great point guard in Johnson, and obviously McCoy and Juiston up front,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman told reporters before Monday’s practice. “Last year we found that they can score from the off guard (Jovan Mooring) as well. They have a lot of different weapons for sure.
“McCoy is just a really good player. He does stuff you can’t game plan for like offensive rebounds. I have great respect for him. He is one of the best freshman in the country. We have to rebound collectively, and not give him easy 1-on-1 reads. It’s a different look for everybody. There are a lot of 6-8 centers in the Mountain West. Dealing with a 7-footer presents a whole different dilemma.”
Preparing for huge players is nothing new. Musselman pointed out he did the same thing night in and night out when he coached with the Kings and Warriors in the NBA.
“The game plan is to win the game, not stop one player,” Musselman said. “They (UNLV) proved how good they are by how they played Boise State at Boise in front of a sellout crowd.”
Saturday, the Broncos beat the Rebels, 93-91, in overtime.
The new players will provide a huge challenge to Jordan Caroline, who’s the biggest and strongest inside player for the Pack.
“They are a great big tandem,” Caroline said. “They are as solid as any in the country.”
“Shakur plays with a motor and a lot of fire,” Nevada’s Hallice Cooke said. “McCoy is a potential first-round pick. We have to play hard with passion. We have a lot of undersized guys and guys with big hearts.”
Playing with tempo is key and getting off to a fast start is key, according to sophomore swingman Josh Hall.
“We have to get the crowd into it early,” Hall said. “We want to get a lot of easy transition baskets. Both of the big guys are kind of slow in transition. We want to make them uncomfortable. The main thing is to get easy points.”
Rivalry games are always special. At last year’s game, famous boxing announcer Michael Buffer introduced the starting lineups, and the players entered the floor through the stands.
If Musselman has any plan, he’s staying mum.
For guys like Cooke, the Martins and Stephens, they will get their first experience. The quartet watched from the sidelines last year.
“Last year was a lot of fun,”Cooke said. “I couldn’t wait to be a part of it. Fans take it seriously, and there is always talk going back and forth.”
“Yeah, I’m excited for this game,” Caroline said. “It’s always a great turnout. Both teams want the win.”
Musselman wants his players excited, but he also wants them to realize there are seven more after tonight.
“Whether we win or lose, there is another game Saturday,” he said. “For the fans, boosters and students, it’s a game that is fun. I get that there is a big-time rivalry. Having said that, it’s another game we’re trying to win and then get ready for Saturday after that.”