The Pack: Fast and the Furious says Joe Santoro
Eric Musselman knows exactly what his Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team does best.
“We wanted to try and outscore them tonight, to be honest,” Musselman said after a 102-92 victory over Fresno State last week at Lawlor Events Center.
The most prolific scoring team in Wolf Pack history over the last two-plus decades simply bludgeons opponents with a sea of field goals, fast breaks and dunks seemingly from one end of the roster to the other.
“One of our phrases we always use is, ‘You got to get a shot on goal,’” Musselman said. “We talk about how a bad shot is better than a turnover.”
This Wolf Pack team is teaching us all that good and fearless shooters can turn bad shots into good ones. The Wolf Pack, now 20-4 overall, is averaging 83.1 points a game, its highest scoring average since the 1991-92 team averaged 84 points a game.
This Wolf Pack team is also connecting on 47 percent of its shots from the field (its best since the 2009-10 team shot 48 percent) and 41 percent of its 3-pointers (its best since the 2006-07 team also shot 41 percent).
“I don’t think a lot of teams can match up with us athletically,” sophomore Josh Hall said. “We have a lot of ball handlers and we have a lot of shooters. When we’re playing fast and efficient I don’t think anyone can stop us.”
Forget about stopping the Pack offense. There are only two teams this year that can say with a straight fact they have at least controlled this offense. San Francisco beat the Pack 66-64 right before Christmas and Hawaii held the Pack to 67 in a 13-point loss to the Pack right after Thanksgiving. Those are the only two games all season long in which the Pack has failed to score at least 71 points.
You can chalk up those two lackluster performances on playing meaningless games away from home during the holidays. Turn on the bright lights, fill the stands with fans and raise the stakes, like when UNLV comes to Lawlor Events Center on Wednesday and, well, this Pack offense comes out firing.
UNLV, by the way, is eighth in the nation in scoring at 86 points a game. If the Pack felt like it had to simply outscore Fresno State, well, the Rebel game will take that philosophy to another level. The Pack is averaging 86.2 points a game at home this year and has scored at least 77 in all 11 home games and 80 or more eight times.
“We just get out in the open court and just make plays,” Hall said.
Open court. Half court. It doesn’t really matter with this Pack offense. They will find a way to put the ball in the hole thanks to an abundance of bold, confident and talented shooters and half the roster who can pass the ball like Tom Brady.
“We have a lot of guys who are great passers and good ball handlers,” Musselman said. “We have multiple point guards. Lindsey (Drew) is a point guard. Hallice (Cooke) is a point guard. Josh (Hall) is a point forward. Cody (Martin) is a point guard. And we feel like Caleb (Martin) is. We have a lot of guys who can play that point guard position and be ball handlers.”
Center Jordan Caroline also has been known to dribble the ball up the floor. “We’re playing him at (center) and he’s really (a small forward),” Musselman said. “He’s probably as good as any (center) in the country handling the ball and bringing up the ball on the break.”
The Pack, which had back-to-back 100-point games this year for the first time since 1988-89, piles up points even when it has an off night on offense. The Pack shot just 36 percent from the field and 30 percent on threes and still beat Colorado State 76-67 on Saturday.
Most Pack teams before Musselman came to town would’ve struggled to reach 60 points with shooting percentages like that. Musselman’s Pack teams, though, just keep shooting and trying to find the hot hand until the ball goes through the hoop.
This Wolf Pack team is similar to the 1991-92 team in that it isn’t dominated by one or two scorers. The 1991-92 team was led by Bryan Thomason (14.8 points a game), Ric Herrin (14.6) and Kevin Soares (13.4). This Pack team has four players in double figures — Caleb Martin (19.8), Caroline (16.7), Cody Martin (13.6) and Kendall Stephens (11.6) — and has had at least three players in double-figure scoring in every game this season.
The greatest scoring team in Pack history averaged an eye-opening 90.2 points a game in 1988-89. That team was led by Darryl Owens (22.7 points a game) but Kevin Franklin was at 17.7, Gabe Parizzia was at 13.0, Chris Rupp averaged 11.1, Jon Baer was at 9.6, Soares scored 9.0 a game and Matt Williams was at 7.4.
“When everybody touches it, it gets everybody involved and makes everybody feel like they’re part of what’s going on,” Cody Martin said recently. “It’s a combination of tempo and ball movement and having shared possessions where everybody is touching it.”
Musselman took over a program that had averaged a mere 60.5 points a game in David Carter’s last year as head coach in 2014-15. That Pack team shot just 38 percent from the floor and 27 percent on threes and scored more than 70 points in a game just three times all season.
Musselman has improved the Pack’s offense every year he’s been in Reno, averaging 75.7 in 2015-16, 79.8 last year and 83.1 this year, the 27th best scoring team in the nation.
Musselman’s teams have reached 100 points six times in his two-plus seasons. Under Trent Johnson, Mark Fox and David Carter, a span of 16 years from 1999-00 through 2014-15, the Pack reached 100 just five times. The Pack coaching record for the most 100-point games belongs to Len Stevens, who did it 19 times from 1987-88 through 1992-93. The 1988-89 team reached 100 nine times.
Just 10 Wolf Pack teams have averaged 80 or more points a game, starting with the 1965-66 team (led by Nap Montgomery’s 18.8 points a game) that averaged 81.3 a game. The other nine took place from 1972-73 through 1991-92. The Pack averaged 80 or more points a game in five of seven seasons from 1972-73 through 1978-79, long before the 3-point shot. Ken “Tree” Green averaged 24 a game in 1982-83, Mike “Fly” Gray was at 23.1 a game in 1978-79, Pete Padgett (16.1) and Edgar Jones (17.6) led the 1975-76 team and Perry Campbell (20.4) and Padgett (16.9) led the 1974-75 team. Marvin Buckley (21.4) and Padgett (16.0) started the run in 1972-73.
Listen to Musselman and he’ll have you believe this Pack team has the potential to be as good offensively as any in Pack history.
“Even though we scored a lot of points at Wyoming (in a 104-103 loss on Jan. 24) we feel we could have done a little better job,” Musselman said.
That’s how you average 83.1 points a game. You always want more. Musselman, of course, knows how to get more, by running the opposition out of the gym.
“We just feel like we have a lot of athletes,” Musselman said. “We feel like we have guys who can get out and finish on the break and there’s no reason for us to walk the ball up the floor.”
One reason is fatigue. The Pack plays just six or seven players meaningful minutes in most games.
“Sometimes we’re tired,” Caleb Martin said. “Sometimes we’re just hard-headed and we see that the defense is back and we kind of jog up the floor.
“We need to push it regardless of what team (the Pack is playing) because we have so many guys who can run the floor well, guys who can catch it on the wing and make a play. It would be dumb not to go that fast.”