Nevada needs to finish strong to win MW title
SAN JOSE — With two games left in the Mountain West season, Nevada is in an enviable position because it controls its own destiny.
If the visiting Pack (23-6, 12-4) beats San Jose State today (7 p.m., 94.3 FM) and knocks off Colorado State at home on Saturday (5 p.m.), Nevada will claim its first Mountain West Conference championship.
The Pack previously won a MW baseball title and women’s swimming and diving crown.
Like any coach, however, Nevada’s Eric Musselman doesn’t like to look ahead. He knows the tie-breaker formula, but his sole focus is on the much-improved Spartans (14-13, 7-9).
Nevada knocked off SJSU, 80-55, in the conference opener back on Dec. 28, but Musselman said that was a long time ago and much has changed.
Indeed. The Spartans split with both San Diego State and Fresno State this season.
Nevada split with SDSU and was swept by Fresno State by a total of eight points.
“They (the Spartans) are much better than they have been in the past,” Musselman said. “We have unbelievable respect for their program. Coach (Dave) Wojcik has done a great job. They are on an upward trajectory. When you have young players, you want them to get better (over the course of the season), and coach Wojcik has done that. They are good at home.
“Look at Terrell Brown. Earlier this season, he was in and out of the lineup. Now, he’s playing with a great deal of confidence. The coaches have done a good job of getting him to play with more confidence.”
Senior guard D.J. Fenner said the team has to stay with the business-like approach it had against UNLV, because this is a trap game in the truest sense of the word.
“We kept thinking about the Utah State game,” Fenner said. “They were in last place (like UNLV) when we went there and we got beat; got blown out.
“We knew we couldn’t go in there and mess around. We have to come in and play hard (at San Jose).”
The Spartans are led by 6-8 sophomore forward Brandon Clarke, who won Sixth Man of the Year Award last season.
“Brandon Clarke has done a great job of going out and getting shots when they don’t run plays for him,” Musselman said. “He has had a phenomenal year.”
Musselman believes Clarke is a viable candidate for Player of the Year honors. The 6-8 sophomore is averaging 17.7 and 8.5 overall, and 19.6 and 9.2 in conference play. He went for 18 and nine in the Dec. 28 game in Reno.
Ryan Welage is averaging almost 13 points a contest, and the versatile forward can hurt teams inside and outside.
Despite the Spartans’ success, they haven’t drawn well. The biggest home crowd was a shade more than 3,000 for San Diego State.
“We have played in environments that have been really difficult,” Musselman said. “Boise State had a big crowd and New Mexico has great crowd.
“For our guys, it doesn’t matter what the environment is. It is about competing against the opposition across from you. The guys are excited about playing this game.”
Wojcik has been stressing playing complete games.
“We have to finish games,” Wojcik said earlier this week. “We have to defend the whole game.
“We can’t play 25 or 35, we have to play a whole 40 minutes.”