Sparks Tribune and Associated Press
After another pair of more than convincing conference wins last week, it’s safe to say the Nevada basketball team is in the midst of playing its best basketball of the season.
The Wolf Pack dominated in-state rival UNLV in Las Vegas last Tuesday, coming away with an 87-70 win before knocking off Boise State at home Saturday afternoon, 93-73.
“I think our team has kind of figured out who they are offensively,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman told reporters after Saturday’s win. “They’re really comfortable in their roles right now.”
The two Mountain West Conference wins moved the Pack to 8-1 in league play and 21-1 overall. They jumped two spots in Monday’s AP Top 25 poll to No. 6.
The team is back on the road tonight at Colorado State and will host New Mexico Saturday afternoon at Lawlor Events Center. The Lobos handed Nevada its only loss of the season to date, an 85-58 drubbing on Jan. 5.
Nevada 93, Boise State 73
RENO — In an effort to attack the basket more, Nevada guard Caleb Martin recently set a personal goal — get a minimum of 30 touches in the paint each game.
Martin first tried it this week at UNLV and came up three short. On Saturday, he topped the mark with 32, and led all scorers with 30 points as the No. 8 Wolf Pack beat Boise State 93-73.
“I’m just trying to make a conscious effort trying to get to the paint, whether it’s an offensive rebound, drive and kick, drive and try to get a layup or whatever I can, just any way I can get to the paint,” said Martin, who has taken 215 of his 315 shots this season from beyond the 3-point line.
“It’s really helped me out a lot because I’m kind of working my way inside out. It’s helped me not rely on the 3 as much, and whenever I start attacking guys, they give me a little more space and that’s when I have the opportunity to shoot the three ball comfortably,” he said.
Twin brother Cody Martin added a season-high 21 as Nevada (21-1, 8-1 Mountain West) had no trouble beating Boise State.
Nevada struggled the previous time it played the Broncos, winning 72-71 on Cody Martin’s 3-pointer in the final seconds at Boise on Jan. 15.
Nevada never trailed after the first minute in the rematch.
The Wolf Pack shot 55.6 percent as a team and 46.4 percent beyond the arc. Boise State led the conference in 3-point defense coming into the game (27.5 percent).
Musselman said Nevada is coming off its best three-game stretch of the season and is “playing at a clip like we did last year” when the team made a Sweet 16 run in the NCAA Tournament.
The Wolf Pack broke away shortly before halftime, going on a 9-2 run for a 41-30 lead at the break. Nevada shot even better in the second half, making 20 of 35 shots.
Alex Hobbs led Boise State (10-12, 5-4) with 21 points. Justinian Jessup and Derrick Alston each scored 19.
“They’re No. 8 in the country for a reason,” Alston said. “They’re a talented team. They had all the answers for us. But I’m just proud of our guys and how we kept fighting the whole game until the last minute.”
Boise State: The Broncos were seeking to finish what they started in their near-miss vs. Nevada last month. Half of their conference losses have come against the Wolf Pack, the Mountain West’s top team.
Nevada: Since scoring 20 points in the first half against Air Force on Jan. 19 — its lowest output for a first half since Musselman arrived at Nevada in 2015 — the Wolf Pack has averaged 47 points in its last seven halves.
Cody Martin topped the 1,000-point total. Jordan Caroline scored 13 points and had 13 rebounds, moving into sixth on Nevada’s all-time rebound list.
Nevada 87, UNLV 70
LAS VEGAS — Caleb Martin had 26 points and six rebounds last Tuesday night in an 87-70 victory over UNLV.
Jordan Caroline added 18 points and 10 rebounds for Nevada, his 12th double-double of the season. Cody Martin chipped in with 10 points, seven assists and six rebounds.
“There was added pressure on this game because it means so much to this state, the big rivalry game, so we knew it would have a lot more influence on how they would play and how they would come out and the energy in this building alone,” Caroline said. “We were so locked in and keyed in defensively. We knew what we needed to do going into this, and we really were just locked in all week at the task at hand.”
The Runnin’ Rebels shot 36.8 percent (25 of 68) from the floor.
Kris Clyburn paced UNLV with 23 points and eight rebounds. Amauri Hardy scored 17.
Nevada, which turned 14 UNLV turnovers into 14 points and outscored the Rebels 15-10 in fast-break points, used a first-half shooting spree to put the game away early, dominating inside and having its way with its archrival. The Wolf Pack opened a 13-6 lead and extended the spread to 12 after completing a 9-2 run midway through the half.
“It’s big for us to take the crowd out early,” Caleb Martin said. “Whether people believe it or not, or whether the crowd believes it or not, their energy translates to the court.”
Nevada set the tone for the blowout with a 13-1 spurt to move ahead 36-17 before taking a 48-26 lead into the locker room behind 48.4 percent shooting (15 of 31). Nevada also shot 5 of 13 from 3-point range and was 13 for 16 at the free throw line in the first half.
And while the Wolf Pack were pulling away in the opening period, the Runnin’ Rebels never found a rhythm, forcing shots from the perimeter and making desperate drives into the paint. Some shots fell, but most didn’t, as UNLV looked beleaguered against Nevada’s bigger lineup.
The Rebels went 10 for 33 from the field, including an abysmal 0 for 12 from 3-point range, while falling behind by 22 at halftime.
With first place in the conference at stake, Caleb Martin thought it was equally important to maintain that momentum in the second half of an intense rivalry game, knowing how dangerous UNLV can be on offense.
“You’ve got to think you have a clear slate and you’ve got to come out with a 0-0 mentality,” he said. “We can’t look up at the scoreboard and think about being up by 15 or think you’re up anything. You just want to come out and make sure you have the same effect from the jump.”
Which the Wolf Pack did, extending the lead to 25 with 15:05 left.
Nevada was equally hot in the second half, shooting 47.6 percent from the field.
“To come on the road and to be able to win by double digits, really proud of our defensive effort,” Musselman said. “They’re a really good offensive team. They can shoot the 3 and I thought from a defensive standpoint we played as good as we’re going to play.”
UNLV announced a season-high attendance of 15,786.