Strong finishers, Nevada Wolf Pack wants better start
No. 7 NEVADA (29-7) vs. No. 11 LOYOLA-CHICAGO (30-4)
When: Thursday, 4:07 p.m.
Where: Phillips Arena
TV-Radio: CBS/630 AM
NEVADA: F Caleb Martin (18.8, 5.4) and Jordan Caroline (17.7, 8.7); G Cody Martin (13.9, 6.3), Hallice Cooke (4.8, 2.1), Kendall Stephens (13.4, 2.1). LOYOLA: F Ben Richardson (6.4, 2.8) and Donte Ingram (11.5, 6.4); C Cameron Krutwig (10.4, 6.1); G Marques Townes (11.0, 3.9) and Clayton Custer (13.3, 2.2)
ATLANTA — Nevada is looking for a chance to make a little history Thursday when it meets Loyola of Chicago in the South Region semifinals at Phillips Arena.
The Pack, 29-7, will be looking for its record-setting 30th win of the season, and is also looking to make the Elite 8 for the first time in school history.
The tip will be at 4:07 (CBS) with the winner meeting the Kentucky-Kansas State winner on Saturday at a time to be determined.
Nevada’s mindset is simple – get the lead early and hold it. Nevada has trailed at halftime in its last five games, but has managed to win three of those games, including comeback wins of 14 and 22 points last week against Texas and Cincinnati in Nashville.
“I think that we might have played a little bit tight in both games, to be honest,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “And we’re still going through an identity crisis, so to speak, without Lindsey Drew, who has been our three-year point guard starter. And Cody (Martin) has done an unbelievably incredible job, but we’re just a different team.
“And there’s been times over the last three weeks that I’ve felt like we can get discombobulated, not because of any one player, just because everyone is playing out of position. Now Caleb Martin is playing the 4 spot on offense often times, and he hasn’t done that all year. He’s played the 2-3. We’re kind of still evolving, so to speak. And I think that’s why we have the ability to continue to get better throughout this tournament, because we haven’t peaked in who we are.”
Nevada played Illinois State and Southern Illinois, both Missouri Valley Conference teams, and Musselman said neither is as good as Loyola.
“They’re a lot better than either of the other two teams we played, without question,” Musselman said. “If I had to compare them to style and how difficult they are to prepare for, it’s like a St. Mary’s team, for people on the West Coast. They’re just so well-coached, and they move the ball so well that they present problems for what type of defense you’re going to game-plan for them.”
The discipline part is crucial. Loyola stays within itself, and because of its offensive execution, won’t beat itself. Pace of play is critical for the Ramblers. They want to dictate tempo, while Nevada wants to play fast.
“Yeah, they like to control the pace of the game,” Nevada’s Hallice Cooke said. “They play together. They share the ball. You can tell that they don’t care who is taking the big shots, who is scoring, who is the leading scorer, and they really get after it. And they have a tight-knit group, and they have a lot of chemistry.
“I believe like if we get behind with this team, it’ll be hard to get back in front because they execute so well offensively. They know how to control the pace of the game. It’s very important for us to get off to a hot start, crash the offensive glass, take our time offensively and get great shots.”
Loyola, like Nevada, spaces the floor well, passes well and can score inside and outside.
“They have good ball movement,” Musselman said. “They move well without the basketball. And then on defense, they just play with great effort. They present a lot of problems.”
Loyola coach Porter Moser is impressed with the Wolf Pack, maybe even more so after last weekend’s heroics.
“You know, I think they play unbelievably hard,” he said. “They are somewhat position-less. They have a number of different guys that are interchangeable parts. They have a lot of guys that can bring it up, a lot of guys can shoot it and they will post up their point guard. They are interchangeable.
“Then you combine that with extreme toughness. I think where we’re different is the size of their interchangeable parts. I mean, they’re 6-7 across the board. The Martin twins, those are two unbelievably difficult guys to scout against when you’re breaking down film. Jordan Caroline, I was familiar with him when he was at Southern Illinois, and watching him develop; and he is a mismatch nightmare. They have a bunch of guys that are mismatch nightmares, and that’s why they’re so hard to guard.”
Loyola swingman Ben Richardson agreed.
“We have really, really focused on not really one guy but staying connected as a unit; five guys on the court, and really being together to slow down their attack,” Richardson said. “Like I said earlier, it’s going to take all five guys being connected to stop, because any one of those guys can really hurt you off the dribble, from deep, any time. So it’s going to take all of us to really lock in and stay connected.”