Nevada Wolf Pack makes statement win against New Mexico
RENO – Pretty in pink.
Nevada donned pink uniforms this week as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer fundraiser, and the Pack put together two of its most dominating performances of the season, including Saturday’s 82-65 demolition of New Mexico before a crowd of 10,727 at Lawlor Events Center and a national television audience.
Nevada improved to 18-4 overall and 7-2 in Mountain West Conference play. The Pack won the first-place showdowns against Boise State on Wednesday and New Mexico on Saturday by an average of 18 points, and firmly planted itself as the team to beat.
The crowd was the 12th largest in school history, and the fans left happy. Coach Eric Musselman and the players went into the stands and thanked the student section for the support.
“I’m proud of the team,” Musselman said. “The last two games we’ve played better basketball than we have all season. We knew New Mexico could score the ball. We did a good job defensively; did a good job of defending the 3-ball.
“I think we rebounded very well in the second half, and we did a pretty good job of sharing the basketball (18 assists on 26 baskets).”
Jordan Caroline, who finished with 20 points and eight rebounds, called it a statement win.
“It’s a great feeling,” Caroline said. “We were talking about coming out and making a statement. We want to stay on top, and if we play defense like we did tonight, we can do that.”
The catalyst of the back-to-back wins was none other than 6-foot-8 sophomore Cam Oliver, who scored a season-high 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and had three steals.
The explosion comes on the heels of a 17-point, 15-rebound effort against Boise State on Wednesday. Prior to last week, he managed just 10 points against Air Force and eight in the loss to Fresno State. He only had eight total rebounds in those two games.
“When Cam dominates a game offensively, defensively or on the glass, we’re a hard team to beat,” Musselman said. “He certainly has stepped up the last two games. He stepped up last year down the stretch.”
“It opens everything up,” Caroline said when asked about Oliver’s performance. “He is tough to guard when he plays like that. When he plays like this, we’re tough to beat.”
Oliver didn’t score until 4:56 left in the opening half , but he scored 20 second-half points on 7-for-10 shooting. He said he got into a good rhythm.
Nevada, which led 37-32 at the half, had three big runs in the final 20 minutes, and Oliver was in the middle of all three.
When New Mexico cut the lead to 37-36 early in the second half, Oliver drained a 3-ball and sank two free throws in a 10-4 run which enabled Nevada to extend its lead to 47-41 with 14:57 remaining.
After Tim Williams scored to make it 47-43, Nevada went on a 11-4 run for a 58-45 lead. Oliver had a flush off a New Mexico turnover, and after the Lobos misfired on the next possession, he drained a 3-ball. Williams scored on a layup , and then Leland King capped the surge with a flush off an assist from Hall.
New Mexico rallied to 64-58 with 6:25 left, but Nevada scored nine straight on a 3-ball by Oliver and two treys by Marcus Marshall to make it 73-58. That last surge finished the Lobos, who lost for the first time in five games.
Oliver said he did a self-check after the sub-par games against Air Force and Fresno State, and he also met with his teammates.
“I talked to my teammates,” Oliver said. “They told me that they depend on me and that I need to start playing harder. I take into consideration what they tell me.”
The talented sophomore said he never has and never will lose confidence or doubt himself.
“I talk to my team; my coaches,” he said. “I ask them what I can do better. If you lose confidence, your game will go down. I’ll never lose confidence in myself.”
Oliver said the next step is easy.
“Every day we want to get better,” he said. “Right now, we look at every team in the conference knowing we are going to get their best shot.”
Nevada has put itself on a big stage with a big target on its back heading into Wednesday’s game against Utah State.
“I didn’t think we had the same edge that we have had previously on the road,” said NM head coach Craig Neal. “It was a big atmosphere today but I still feel good about where we are. We have to get better and we have to keep going.”
The Lobos got 18 each from Elijah Brown and Tim Williams, but nobody else had more than seven.
Brown had eight quick points in the first half, but Nevada settled in defensively and made the lefty guard work hard for everything he got. Williams went 8-for-12 shooting.
“We played kind of a hybrid trap,” Musselman said. “We had a couple of days to work on it. We wanted to take the ball out of Brown’s hands and Williams’ hands as much as possible.”