Muss channels his inner Matt Foley to fire up Pack |

Muss channels his inner Matt Foley to fire up Pack

Joe Santoro

Eric Musselman, it seems, never runs out of ways to motivate his Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team.

Musselman wanted to bring out the best in his Wolf Pack on Saturday for a meeting with the Utah State Aggies at Lawlor Events Center. The Mountain West conference schedule wasn’t doing it. UC Davis, Southern Illinois, Radford and San Francisco didn’t do it right before the holidays. Not even playing in front of 9,000 or more adoring fans at Lawlor Events Center brought out the Pack’s best for more than brief flashes over the past month or so.

So Musselman got creative this week. He channeled his inner Matt Foley, of Saturday Night Live television motivational speaker fame.

“We wanted to get off to a little better start than we have in recent games,” Musselman said. “We felt like we didn’t play up to our potential in the last game (an 86-75 win at Air Force) for stretches of the game. We talked about the importance of playing for 40 minutes and not messing around with the game.”

Matt Foley spends four hours in the basement drinking coffee to get ready for a motivational speech. Musselman was a bit more creative. No, he didn’t stand in front of the Wolf Pack wearing a plaid jacket, white shirt and green tie, repeatedly twist his belt and hitch up his pants and fall on the locker room coffee table. He also didn’t strike fear into the hearts of the Wolf Pack by telling them, in effect, they would grow up to eat a steady diet of government cheese and live in a van down by the river.

Musselman simply created some fake news. His talented team was messing around with games lately, playing with opponents like a cat plays with a tiny mouse before eating it, so he thought he’d mess with their heads a little bit.

“The Utah State coach (Tim Duryea) said that when they come in here they usually play us down to the wire,” Wolf Pack junior Caleb Martin said. “That added fuel to the fire before the game.”

Musselman was the one who started that fake fire, posting Duryea’s quotes for everyone in silver and blue to see this week. “He had it plastered everywhere all over the locker room” Martin said. “He made sure we saw it.”

Musselman, as far as we know, has nothing against Duryea, Utah State or the Aggies. He just saw a way to motivate his bored basketball team as it journeyed through the boring Mountain West schedule in the middle of January.

“You could think that it was reaching a little bit,” Wolf Pack senior Kendall Stephens said.

Yeah, just a little. But like most everything Musselman has done since he came to Nevada a little less than three years ago, it worked brilliantly.

“He made sure we knew that they thought they were going to come in here and win,” Martin said. “So we knew we had to come in with our head straight.”

What did Duryea say this week that angered the Wolf Pack so much? Well, get the small children out of the room. The language Duryea used isn’t for innocent eyes.

Duryea had the nerve to say his team has played well at times in Reno in the past.

“It feels like almost every time we’ve been there we’ve been in the game with a chance to win down the stretch,” Duryea said in front of the Logan, Utah media last week. “That’s a source of confidence for our players. The two home games they (Nevada) have had in league have both been very close games. Hopefully we can dwell on that and draw from that.”

That’s it. Pretty inflammatory stuff, right? Well, Musselman isn’t going to let reality get in the way of a good motivational ploy. As far as he was concerned Duryea spilled some gasoline this week and Musselman was more than willing to toss a lit match into the puddle.

The Pack attacked the Aggies on Saturday as if their shorts were on fire and as if Duryea had the nerve last week to question their manhood and character.

What we saw was the best of Wolf Pack basketball for an extended period of time maybe for the first time in over a month. The Wolf Pack played the role of polite host by allowing the Aggies to score the first two points of the game but after that the Wolf Pack didn’t even offer them a slice of government cheese.

The Pack scored the next 13 points and never led by less than five the rest of the game. The Aggies had the nerve to cut the Pack lead to five with eight minutes to go in the first half but all that did was motivate the Pack even more.

Those final eight minutes of the first half were the basketball version of Mike Tyson devouring Trevor Berbick, Michael Spinks, Tony Tubbs, Carl Williams and Marvis Frazier in the 1980s. The Pack outscored Utah State 21-2 over those eight glorious minutes and, at times, it went from the brutality of boxing to the artistry and beauty of ballet in a matter of seconds.

Point guard Lindsey Drew made like Matt Foley twisting his belt and hitching up his pants for an unbelievable acrobatic layup one minute and then showed us a brilliant shot off the glass the next minute. Less than two minutes later he drained a 3-pointer and never took a shot the rest of the game. Jordan Caroline converted a shot in the paint and Kendall Stephens made it rain from 3-point range. Twice.

Utah State simply melted under the Wolf Pack barrage, missing 16 of its final 17 shots in the first half. That van the Aggies were living in down by the river now had four broken windows, four flat tires, a heater that didn’t work and a radio that was stuck on the channel for the road conditions.

Now that, Wolf Pack fans, is how you motivate a bored basketball team.

“In the first half I don’t know how we could have played much better at both ends (of the floor),” Musselman said.

The only thing Musselman could’ve done better this week in motivating his team was to fall on a coffee table.

We saw on Saturday, yet again, how much the players believe in Musselman. They knew what Musselman was doing by forcing them to read the Utah State coach’s quotes. They all realized it was yet another hokey coaching cliché ploy to fire up his team. But they also made sure it worked.

“That’s what you have to do as a competitor and as a coach,” Stephens said. “You have to find ways to motivate yourself. ”

Even if those ways are make believe. How dare Duryea say his team had a chance to beat the Wolf Pack?

“When someone says that they can hang with you and you don’t think that way, you should take it personal,” Stephens said.

Hey, whatever works. And Musselman always knows what works for his Wolf Pack basketball team.

All you have to do is watch five minutes of Utah State basketball to know the Aggies can’t hang with the Wolf Pack. They can’t run with the Pack, they can’t jump with the Pack, they can’t stand up to the Pack, they can’t shoot with the Pack and they can’t even stay in the same gym with the Pack. We saw all that on Saturday.

Duryea, though, isn’t the bad guy here. In fact, the Utah State coach is nothing more than an innocent victim proven guilty by Musselman, the most ruthless prosecuting attorney in the Mountain West. If he was a SEC football coach in the 1960s, he would have everyone believing Forrest Gump took money from Alabama boosters to play for Bear Bryant.

Duryea actually wants his Aggie basketball team to grow up someday and become Musselman’s Wolf Pack. Here are some quotes from Duryea this week Musselman didn’t plaster all over the Wolf Pack locker room:

“Nevada is a talented team,” Duryea said. “Probably top to bottom the most talented team in our league. They can all pass it, they can all handle it, shoot it and put it on the floor. They are very versatile. It feels like the whole roster is 6-foot-6 or 6-7. One minute one of the Martins (Caleb or Cody) is at the four (power forward), they’ll make a substitution and now that same kid will be playing the point. They are really modern day basketball personified. They, more than anybody, personify modern-day, interchangeable, versatile players, one through five.”

Musselman, according to Duryea, is changing the face of college basketball. Sounds like the Utah State coach is actually a closet Wolf Pack fan. How can you come out and punch his team in the mouth? You can’t. So you tell your team Duryea thinks he can actually come into their house and win. That’s how you then go out and win 83-57.

Musselman was at his best this past week. The Duryea ploy was just one of his Matt Foley tricks. He told his players they might be 4-0 in league play but they also haven’t played anywhere near their potential. He told them nobody truly respects them.

“That’s one of the things Coach (Musselman) mentioned in the pre-game,” Stephens said. “A lot of people have doubts and issues (with the Pack). He brought up quotes from (ESPN’s ) Jay Bilas, saying we don’t rebound or defend well enough. So we took it personal.”

The Pack beat Fresno State, Wyoming, New Mexico and Air Force by an average of 9.5 points to open the Mountain West portion of their schedule. Musselman made it seem to his team this week everyone outside their locker room expected the Pack to win those four games by an average of 29.5 points.

“People could look at that those games as fluke games, fluke wins,” Caleb Martin said. “So we wanted to prove that we are the best team (in the Mountain West). We’re undefeated right now in the league but everybody in the league still thinks they have a chance. This (the win over Utah State) was a statement win for sure.”

The statement? How’s it hanging now, Tim Duryea? Enjoy your government Mountain West cheese.