Joe Santoro: Nevada Wolf Pack puts the ‘D’ in defense against Davidson
Special to the Appeal
RENO — The Nevada Wolf Pack knew all about the Davidson Wildcats’ offense going into Tuesday night’s meeting at Lawlor Events Center. The Wildcats now know about the Wolf Pack’s defense.
“Our defensive effort was phenomenal,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said after an 81-68 win over the Wildcats. “That was probably as good a defensive effort as we’ve had.”
Davidson strolled into Lawlor as the highest scoring team in the nation, averaging a 109 points over each of its first two games this season. The Wildcats also led the nation with 19.5 3-pointers a game and had three players averaging more than 20 points a game.
“That’s a real difficult team to defend,” Musselman said.
The Wolf Pack welcomed the challenge.
“There isn’t a team in the country that prepares for an opponent as much as we do,” junior forward Cody Martin said. “We do a lot of stuff.”
The Wolf Pack held Davidson to 41 points below its season average. Davidson did hit 13 3-pointers but it required 36 attempts. The Wildcats’ 41 percent shooting overall for the game is the first time they’ve shot under 50 percent this year. Davidson’s 36 percent shooting on threes against the Pack was also its lowest success rate this year.
Those three guys who were averaging more than 20 points a game? Well, Peyton Aldridge, Kellan Grady and Jon Gudmundsson, who were averaging a combined 72.5 points, scored just 36 points against the Pack. And none of them even sniffed 20 points.
“Our coaching staff goes over every detail before every game,” junior forward Caleb Martin said. “We understand the tendencies of the players we’re guarding. We know what they like to do. If you don’t know the tendencies of the players you are guarding with our coaching staff then you’re just not paying attention.”
The Wolf Pack proved against Davidson that it devours every word and detail that comes from its coaching staff. The Pack forced Davidson into 15 turnovers, which is eight more than the Wildcats had in the first two games combined.
Cody Martin had four steals. Jordan Caroline and Lindsey Drew each had two. Darien Williams and Hallice Cooke came off the bench and each had a steal. Caleb Martin also had a steal. The Pack’s 11 steals are a season high.
“I love the challenge of guarding the other team’s best player,” Cody Martin said.
The Wolf Pack jumped out to a 9-0 lead, forcing Davidson into five misses on its first five shots. Cody Martin blocked a shot by Aldridge, grabbed the loose ball and finished at the other end with a dunk for a 14-9 lead. A steal by Drew led to a 3-pointer by Josh Hall and a 23-22 lead. A steal by Cody Martin led to a layup by Caleb Martin and a 31-29 lead going into halftime.
“Our coaches want us to get deflections and steals which lead to dunks and points on offense,” said Cody Martin, who had nine deflections against Davidson. “We pride ourselves in our defense.”
Musselman said he made a change in his starting lineup because of defense. He inserted the quicker and more versatile 6-foot-7 Caleb Martin into the starting five in place of the 6-8 Elijah Foster. The lineup change gave the Pack defense more quickness and versatility.
“Our switching on defense was real good,” Musselman said. “Our hands in their eyes, our switching, I thought was phenomenal.”
Davidson was just 5-of-18 on 3-pointers in the first half.
“Our guys are real smart,” Musselman said. “They are a veteran group. They locked in on defense tonight.”
A steal by Cody Martin led to a layup by Caleb Martin and a 38-32 lead less than a minute into the second half. Drew blocked a 3-point attempt by Davidson’s Will Magarity, leading to a pair of free throws by Caleb Martin and a 60-45 lead. It was a steal and a layup by Caleb Martin that put the finishing touches on the victory, giving the Pack a 76-62 lead with 3:14 to play.
“Our length, our active hands was bothersome to (Davidson),” Musselman said.
None of the Pack’s first five opponents this season have scored more than 30 points (Idaho) in the first half. Davidson, which was averaging 54 points in the first half this season, had just 29 in the first 20 minutes on Tuesday.
Musselman is convinced that this year’s Wolf Pack is a better defensive team than last year’s team which won 28 games and went to the NCAA tournament.
“We’re a better defensive team for sure,” Musselman said. “But we’re a more competitive team all around. This is the most competitive group we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
There was a question going into this season of how the Pack was going to adjust on the defensive end without a shot blocker like Cam Oliver, who blocked 91 shots last year and 190 over the past two seasons. That question has now been answered.
“We know we’re smaller this year,” Hall said. “Last year we kind of relied on Cam Oliver to block shots because he was a great shot blocker. We didn’t have to play great defense out on the wings. Our focus this year is to play great defense on the wings and then go rebound.”
“This is what we do everyday in practice,” Cody Martin said. “Coach is always preaching defense to us and telling us to use our length and our quickness.”
Above all else, the Pack is already showing this season that it can beat teams in a number of ways.
“We’re still growing,” Caleb Martin said. “We’re still figuring things out. I still feel like we can get a lot better.”