Nevada Wolf Pack continues to defend homecourt
UTAH STATE (10-8, 3-2) AT NEVADA (15-3, 4-0)
When: Saturday, 5 p.m.
Where: Lawlor Events Center
TV/Radio: ESPN3/630 AM or 94.3 FM
Coaches: Nevada’s Eric Musselman is 67-24 in his 3rd season; Utah State’s Tim Duryea is 40-40 in his 3rd season
Projected starters: UTAH STATE - F Diogo Brito (6.1, 2.9), Dwayne Brown (9.5, 5.4) and Alex Dargenton (8.3, 3.9); G Koby McEwen (14.6, 3.9), Sam Merrill (15.5, 3.4). NEVADA - F Jordan Caroline (17.1, 9.4), Caleb Martin (19.2, 5.5); G Kendall Stephens (12.2, 1.7), Lindsey Drew (7.1, 3.5), Cody Martin (13.6, 6.6).
News & Notes
Nevada’s 15-3 start is the best since Mark Fox’s 2006-07 team started the season 17-1…Stephens has four or more 3s in nine of his last 12 games … Nevada is attempting to extend its home winning streak to 14 games dating back to last season … Nevada’s RPI currently sits at 17 with a strength of schedule of 46 … Merrill is shooting 58 percent overall and 53 percent from beyond the arc in his last five games …DeAngelo Isby has give n the Aggies a lift off the bench. He’s averaging 10.2 a game. Daron Henson has scored 12 in each of his last two games … The series is tied at 14 in games played at Lawlor Events Center.
RENO — The Nevada Wolf Pack could very well be compared to the Joe Montana-led 49ers of the early 1980s.
In both cases, a pretty good defense was often overshadowed by the prolific offense.
“I think our defense is good,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said in preparation for Saturday’s home game (5 p.m.) against Utah State. “Our offense has played at such a high level you want to critique areas to get better, and you go to defense based on numbers.
“In year one, the only way to win was great defense because our offense was so bad. Right now if our offense is mediocre we can win a game. We have had nights of great defensive performances and other times we let talent win games. Every defensive possession we strive for perfection; try to get a shutout each defensive possession. We’re a pretty good defensive team.”
The Pack allows 42.6 percent from the field, but just 32.6 from beyond the arc. The team is third in the conference in blocked shots and fourth in steals. Much of that has been overlooked in Nevada’s 15-3 start (4-0 in league) because of Nevada’s offense that averages more than 80 a game.
“We pride ourselves (on our defense),” junior guard Cody Martin said. “We have to make sure we stay locked in. We’re athletic guys and we have to use that. We just have to make sure we go hard the entire time.”
“I think it can be better,” Jordan Caroline said. “We’re not terrible. I think it will come. It’s a matter of time.”
The Pack needs to be dialed in against the Aggies, who beat Fresno State and UNLV before dropping a rare home game to Colorado State on Wednesday night. The Aggies are 3-2 in conference.
“Utah State really shoots it well, especially from the perimeter,” Musselman said. “Both guards (Sam Merrill and Coby McEwen) are phenomenal. Both can shoot. McEwen does a good job of getting into the teeth of the defense and shooting the 3-ball. They have really good role players that know who they are.”
And, the Aggies have played well despite losing 6-11 Norbert Janicek to a preseason knee injury.
“When you have an injury early (or before the season) it doesn’t affect it at all,” Musselman said. “(Alex) Dargenton and Quinn Taylor have done a good job inside. I think they are a good team, and their conference record reflects that.”
Merrill shoots 50.8 from the floor and averages 15.5, and McEwen averages 14.9 and shoots 40 percent.
“They (McEwen and Merrill) can do both,” Martin said. “At first it looks like they are more catch and shoot, but they have progressed from last year. They do a lot more than you think they would.”
“Both shoot off the dribble,” added Caroline. “They are not just catch and shoot shooters. McEwen is a great player and Merrill is another really good player.”
Nevada has been off for the past six days, while USU lost Wednesday to Colorado State.
“I don’t think so,” Musselman said. “Players would rather stick in the rhythm of playing Tuesday or Wednesday (and then on Saturday) and not having this break. It’s challenging to have practice for six days (straight) this time of the year. We’re used to playing and then prep light between games. It’s a grind to do it the way we are.”
The coach may not think so, but Caroline said the extra time helped.
“We had a chance to watch and study more film this week,” Caroline said. “We have a whole week to prepare.”
NOTES: Graduate student transfer Darien Williams was dismissed from the team on Friday, according to a school release. Musselman said Williams wasn’t meeting the program standards … Nevada junior Caleb Martin has been named to the 2017-18 Lute Olson Award mid-season watch list. Martin is one of 30 players on the mid-season list and is one of just two players from the Mountain West on the watch list … Four players — redshirt Tre’shawn Thurman, Hallice Cooke and Cody and Caleb Martin — are now sporting cornrows.