Nevada hopes to maintain momentum at SDSU | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada hopes to maintain momentum at SDSU

Darrell Moody
dmoody@nevadaappeal.com
Cameron Oliver goes up for a dunk against UNLV on Wednesday.
Thomas Ranson/LVN |

Nevada basketball coach Eric Musselman is hoping to take the momentum from the record-setting win against UNLV into Sunday’s game at San Diego State.

Tip-off is set for 1 p.m. at Viejas Arena (CBS Network, ESPN Radio), a venue where the Wolf Pack has never won.

“I think the UNLV game did a lot for our confidence and success,” Musselman said earlier this week. “It’s a new ballgame so to speak. I don’t think there is any carryover other than we played well at both ends of the floor.

“I’m worried about playing San Diego State. They are a really good team. I have enormous respect for them. It’s phenomenal what they have accomplished with their program. They have guys that can score the ball in (Jeremy) Hemsley and (Trey) Kell, and (Zylan) Cheatham is all over the backboard. In front of a great crowd here, it was a really tight game.”

The Aztecs, the preseason conference favorite, have struggled this year, posting a 5-6 conference record and a 13-10 overall mark. The problems have been two-fold — lack of scoring and an injury to forward Malik Pope.

San Diego State ranks near the bottom of the Mountain West in scoring offense and near the top in scoring defense. Pope missed nine games this year, including the Jan. 4 game in Reno won by the Pack, 72-69.

Three starters — Kell (14.0), Hemsley (14.1) and Cheatham (10.1) — all average in double figures. The Aztecs are shooting at a 40 percent clip, and that isn’t going to win a ton of games.

Junior forward Pope hasn’t missed a beat since returning from the injury. Pope, who has started the last four, has nine or more points in each of his last four contests. In those four games, he’s averaging 13.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.8 steals in 28.8 minutes of action.

“Pope can shoot the ball, put it on the deck, and he’s a range rebounder,” Musselman said. “He really adds a dimension.”

Today’s game means different things for both teams, according to SDSU coach Steve Fisher.

“I think both teams will play indicative of the fact that it’s a big game for both of us,” he said. “From our end, we want to beat the team that’s the leader of the pack. From their end, they want to prove that they are an NCAA Tournament team regardless. They will remember, as will we, game one.

“So we’re excited. I’m hopeful that we’ll have a big crowd, which is somewhat atypical for us to play on a Sunday. And we’re anxious to play. Trey (Kell) is four or five points away from 1,000 for his career. Hopefully we get that in the first 35 seconds. Trey is a huge piece of what we do; everybody knows that. When he’s made big plays, we’ve won. It’s the nature of what we do.”

Fisher wants to see his team come out with a little more fight.

“We have a thought of the day and it’s fight,” said the veteran SDSU coach. “And that doesn’t mean fist fight. But that means to have a will and a determination to compete and the result takes care of itself. That’s going to be our theme, to come out and compete, fight, and if we do that for 40 minutes collectively, we’ll have a great chance to be successful.”