Nevada Wolf Pack ready to defend homecourt again

UNLV's Amauri Hardy shoot over Nevada's Hallice Cooke, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Reno, Nev., Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Tom R. Smedes)

UNLV's Amauri Hardy shoot over Nevada's Hallice Cooke, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Reno, Nev., Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Tom R. Smedes)

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After Wednesday’s disappointing loss to in-state rival UNLV, Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman lit into his team; challenged them.

“We didn’t rebound and we didn’t defend,” Musselman said in his postgame press conference. “We played soft. I don’t know what else to say.

“I don’t know if we’re capable (of playing defense). Sometimes really good offensive players can’t defend and can’t get loose balls. If we don’t defend and rebound, we won’t win another game.”

How much of Musselman’s rant got though to his team will be determined Saturday (5 p.m., ESPN2) when the 23rd-ranked Wolf Pack (20-5, 9-2) hosts San Diego State (13-9, 5-6) at Lawlor Events Center.

The Aztecs have had a rough first year under Brian Dutcher. The team is 1-5 in Mountain West road games, which is normally good news for a good home team like Nevada.

The Pack, though, is reeling without leading scorer Caleb Martin.

Musselman painted a dire picture for the team.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen the next three games,” Musselman said. “San Diego State is a great team and they are long (and athletic). It’s not going to get easier at Boise State and it’s not going to get any easier at Utah State.

“We’re in a fight for our life. We need to figure out how we can get a bye for the Mountain West tournament. We need a decent seed and I mean seeding in the Mountain West tournament.”

The top five teams get first-round byes and won’t play until Thursday. Teams that finish sixth through 11th must play on Wednesday. The Pack, especially without Caleb Martin, may not have enough depth to play four straight days with what is essentially a seven-man roster if Martin misses the rest of the season.

The players haven’t given up, and they believe a MW title is doable, but they admit the defense has to get better.

“The biggest thing is just play defense; take pride in our defense,” Cody Martin said. “We’re capable of doing that, I just don’t know why we don’t sometimes.”

And, Martin said that rebounding is a big key. The Rebels grabbed 13 offensive rebounds that led to many successful putbacks.

“That is just effort,” Martin said. “We emphasized rebounding all week. We (also) dug ourselves a hole. We didn’t get the 50-50 balls. You can’t go five times when you need a big stop and not get one.”

Musselman said defense has been an issue for the past three weeks. Rim protecting has been a problem because of Nevada’s lack of size. That is the one area where Cam Oliver is sorely missed. He was one of the best shot blockers in the country.

Oliver turned pro last year following his sophomore season at Nevada.

The Aztecs have struggled offensively, and Dutcher said much of that is attributed to inexperience.

“Not a great performance by the Aztecs,” Dutcher said after last week’s loss to Fresno State. “We got frustrated offensively. Like most young teams, we tried to do things too fast. We never caught a rhythm offensively. I told the team I wish I could have helped them more to find something that would get them in a rhythm. We just seemed to be playing at too frantic of a pace and trying to attack too quickly at times.

“Continue to work and get better. We had a decent first half defensively. It was not great, but it was better. The second half they (Fresno) shot 61 percent in the second half and opened the lead up. I think we defend better when we play defense in front of the bench. We can help the young kids out a lot more. When they are away from us in the second half, it is harder to coach them. They can’t hear us, they are on their own and sometimes it shows.”


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