RENO — Biggest game of the season.
That’s how Saturday’s Nevada-Boise State game at Lawlor Events Center (7 p.m., ESPNU) is being billed around the conference.
The battle brings together the two best teams in the Mountain West. Nevada is the only unbeaten team in conference play at 6-0, and the Broncos are a step behind at 6-1.
“I’m excited,” said sophomore Josh Hall. “I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time. I’m glad they won their last game. I’ve watched the San Diego State and Fresno State games. The key is getting stops and rebounding.”
“It’s a big game; awesome for our fans,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said Thursday afternoon. “This time of the year two teams coming into Lawlor with really good records. Both (teams) are playing well. Having said that, it’s one game amongst a whole group we still have to play. Win, lose or draw Saturday we have to get ready to go to Laramie.”
Nevada may play the game without star point guard Cody Martin (13.3, 6.4), who has an Achilles strain. He missed nearly the entire second half against Utah State. He didn’t play at San Jose State and didn’t practice Thursday or Friday. He’s expected to be a game-time decision.
It would be a big blow.
“We’re already short from a depth standpoint,” Musselman said. “He’s a great defender and he creates size match-up problems, and he’s one of our best rebounders and shot blockers. A lot of areas we miss when he’s missing.”
Musselman said Caleb Martin would guard whomever Cody was slated to defend.
That very well could be 6-7 Chandler Hutchison, the media’s vote for MW Preseason Player of the Year. He’s averaging 19.6 points and 8.3 rebounds a game, and the Pack thinks he has gotten better every year.
“He has added a 3-point shot from watching film,” Hall said. “We have to continue to send guys at home to make sure he doesn’t get any easy looks.”
Historically, Nevada has done a solid job in shutting off the leading scorer from the opposing team. It has been a staple since Musselman came to Nevada.
“In the NBA, you’re playing against the Kobe’s and Shaq’s on a nightly basis,” said Musselman, who was head coach at both Golden State and Sacramento. “Those guys are going to score. The biggest key is holding those guys under their average.
“In the NBA if a player scores 35 or 38 and he’s averaging 26, you probably aren’t going to win the game. It could be a sixth grade CYO player or a seventh-grade AAU player. If the best player has a great game, you probably are not going to win. You are trying to hold down the main guy as much as possible.”
The Broncos have other weapons — Lexus Williams and Chris Sengfelder — both transfers. Williams, who averages 8 a game, came from Valparaiso and Sengfelder, who averages 10.1, came from Fordham.
“Those two great off-season transfers changed the complexion of the team,” Musselman said. “Without those two they don’t have the same depth. That changed the game for them.”
Nevada is looking for its 16th straight win against a MW opponent dating back to last season, including three straight in the MW Tournament.
Musselman emphasizes playing one game at a time.
“Playing every game like it’s the seventh game of a championship series,” the third-year Nevada coach said. “Having that mindset of trying not to overlook teams. That is the mindset we’ve had the last two years. We try to stay the course and understand where we are and what we have to do moving forward.”