Nevada Wolf Pack faces UNLV in Mountain West tourney opener
NEVADA (26-6) VS. UNLV (20-12)
What: Mountain West Championships
When: Thursday, Noon
Where: Thomas & Mack
TV: CBS Sports Network
Last meeting: Nevada 101, UNLV 75 on Feb. 28
Projected starters: NEVADA: F Jordan Caroline (17.6, 8.7) and Caleb Martin (19.5, 5.3); G Hallice Cooke (4.8, 2.2), Cody Martin (13.9, 6.5) and Kendall Stephens (13.5, 2.0); UNLV: F: Shakur Juiston (14.4, 10.1) and Brandon McCoy (16.9, 10.2); G: Jovan Mooring (13.7, 2.9), Jordan Johnson (14.0, 2.8) and Tervell Beck (7.2, 2.3).
LAS VEGAS — Jordan Caroline is playing some of his best basketball of the season, and he’s made no secret he likes playing at Thomas & Mack.
In his five games at Thomas & Mack, including last season’s conference tournament, Caroline has scored 97 points and grabbed 49 rebounds.
Caroline has scored in double figures in all five games, and has had double-doubles in four of those contests. And, when Caroline records a double-double, Nevada almost always wins.
The 22nd-ranked Wolf Pack hopes Caroline continues that trend when it collides with in-state rival UNLV on Wednesday at noon in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Championships.
“It’s just March, and I love March,” he said earlier this week. “I love this building. It’s my favorite place to play. There is a lot of history here.”
Nevada has won four of the six meetings against UNLV since Eric Musselman took over, and all four of the wins have been lopsided.
Nevada won 85-63 in Musselman’s first year, and followed that in the 2016-17 season with wins (94-58 and 104-77). After UNLV handed Nevada its only home loss of the season, 86-78, earlier this year, the Pack rolled to a 101-75 win Feb. 28.
“This is a fun time of the year for everybody,” Musselman said earlier this week. “I hope we win (today) and get to Friday. You can see what’s happening around the country in some of these conference tournaments. Stuff happens this time of the year. To win a conference tournament, you need a little luck. We won it last year, but there was a little bit of luck involved.
“UNLV has great length and they have talented players that get their own shots, and they play fast. I think they are as good as anybody.”
Brandon McCoy and Shakur Juiston have given Nevada fits, combining for 60 points and 51 rebounds in the two games. Musselman feels the Pack has done as good a job as anybody in defending the pair.
“We have to be aggressive and keep them off the glass,” Cody Martin said. “You have seen him (Juiston) rebound. He’s athletic. We have to keep him and McCoy off the glass.”
The Pack will be hard pressed to stop both big men. The key may be stopping guards Jordan Johnson and Jovan Mooring.
Mooring torched Nevada for 31 in the first game but was held to five in the game last week.
“The first game we did a horrible job defending Mooring (11-for-20),” Musselman said. “We did a better job in game 2. Johnson and Mooring are difficult covers.”
Mooring went 2-for-16 last week against the Pack, and followed that up with a 2-for-9 effort in the loss to Utah State to end the regular season. Mooring went 3-for-10 from the floor against Air Force in Wednesday’s tournament opener. That is 7-for-35, and if that continues it could be a long day for UNLV. He is due for a big game.
UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said Mooring doesn’t hold the key to victory.
“I think this has got to be a team win,” Menzies said after Wednesday’s 97-90 overtime win over Air Force. “We’re not going to beat Reno if we come in here and rely on the bigs or rely on a guard; they’re too good.
“They (Nevada) are one of the top teams in the United States, and we’re trying to figure out what bricks need to be in place to build a foundation. It’s going to be a challenge. They are a really, really good team. I don’t think it’s going to be a game where you have to rely on a particular position if that makes sense.”
Mooring said the key to beating Nevada is simple.
“It’s just about who wants it more,” he said. “They know us pretty well and we know them pretty well, so whichever team comes to play is going go win.”
Musselman disagreed, adding Nevada has put some new things in since Cody Martin took over for the injured Lindsey Drew.
“We added a whole new offense two games ago,” said Musselman. “We are playing with a completely different point guard.
“We’ll do some things differently that nobody has seen. Our job is to constantly evolve and not stay the same.”
That being said, Nevada expects a challenging game.
“Every team takes it up another notch when it hits March,” Cody Martin said. “We have to approach every game like it’s for the championship.”
Nevada has won six of its last seven, the only blemish being a five-point loss at San Diego State last weekend.
“We play seven guys and that’s it,” Musselman said. “We didn’t win in San Diego because all seven guys didn’t play well. When they do we are really good, and when they don’t, we struggle.”