Nevada cruises past Utah State in Mountain West quarterfinals
LAS VEGAS — Nevada came out firing on all cylinders, and Utah State never recovered.
Thanks to the early inside play of Jordan Caroline and Cam Oliver, Nevada built a double-digit lead in the first 4 1/2 minutes and rolled to an 83-69 win in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Basketball Championships Thursday afternoon at Thomas & Mack Center.
The win sends Nevada, 26-6, into today’s semifinal at 7 p.m. against Fresno State. The Bulldogs swept the season series against Nevada by a combined six points.
“I thought our guys did a really good job to start the game,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “The execution on our offensive script, you know, to get the lead or the cushion that we got.
“I don’t think that we have executed like that out of the gate where the ball moved and we cut so hard and we had great screens where we actually went and made contact with people and got people open. I thought that first four minutes was phenomenal.”
Nevada scored 14 of the game’s 16 points and then went on a 14-0 run in the final 5 1/2 minutes of the half to grab a 45-28 halftime advantage.
Jordan Caroline (22 points) and Oliver (19 points) scored 12 of Nevada’s first 14 points.
“I thought they did a great job,” Musselman said. “We wanted to go inside a little bit more than be too perimeter oriented tonight.”
The Aggies got out of the gate slow for the second straight day. They overcame San Jose State on Wednesday, but couldn’t overcome the top-seeded Pack.
“I give credit to Nevada,” Utah State coach Tim Duryea said. “I thought they were tremendous. I don’t think we played poorly. They were just very good. The start they had was really good. We needed them to have a little bit of a slow start and have some doubt, and they didn’t do that.”
The impressive thing about Nevada’s 17-point halftime lead is Nevada played nearly 15 minutes without D.J. Fenner and 13 1/2 minutes without Caroline after they picked up their second fouls.
Leland King scored eight first-half points and Josh Hall added three. Nevada led by five when Caroline went out and gained 12 points with Hall and King in the line-up.
The final run was a thing of beauty. It featured 3s by King on back-to-back possessions, a flush by Oliver, a triple by Lindsey Drew and a playground basket by Hall. Leading 33-26, Hall, inbounding the ball under the basket, bounced it off the leg of an unknowing Utah State defender, picked up the ball and scored.
“It was great,” Oliver said when asked about the bench play. “It was phenomenal. We needed it. Coach Muss always talks about we need bench productivity, and they brought it. We all know what Josh and Leland are capable of doing. It’s about time for them to get the shot to do it.”
It might help Nevada in the long run. Fenner only played 25 minutes and Caroline logged 27. Both should be fresh for Fresno State tonight.
Utah State cut the lead to 10 at 51-41 with 14:30 left in the game, but Nevada scored 15 of the next 22 points to open up a 63-48 lead.
Caroline scored on a lay-up, and after Julion Pearre misfired, Marcus Marshall scored on a drive to the basket. Sam Merrill dropped in a 3 to make it 55-44, but a floater by Oliver, two straight buckets by Fenner, a Hall lay-up and a three by Fenner completed the surge.
“It all started with the defense,” Marshall said. “The first time they out-rebounded us by like 16. Coach emphasized limiting them to one shot.”
Nevada held a 38-29 edge on the boards, and turned nine offensive rebounds into nine points.
“That was one of our emphasis going into the game was to win the rebound battle,” Caroline said. “We took it upon ourselves to go out and get the rebounds and take care of business.”
Caroline scored 15 of his points after intermission.
“I just wanted to help us any way that I could,” he said. “I tried to give us a spark. Because I was on the bench (in the first half), I wanted to come out (and do) like Josh and Leland did. I didn’t want us to fall off because I was back in.”
Musselman likes the attitude of his team, and the way they’re playing the game.
“If you were around our team, you would think it’s the first game of the season,” Musselman said. “That is how focused they have been. We feel just like last year when we continue to get stronger as the season goes on.”
“You have got to have fun playing basketball, and seeing everybody do what we know they are capable of doing, it’s just a fun feeling.”
One Nevada would like to continue having for a couple of more weeks.