Sparks Tribune and Associated Press
Nevada fell six spots in Monday’s AP Top 25 poll to No. 12 after splitting a pair of games last week.
The Wolf Pack (25-2, 12-2) dropped its second game of the season to San Diego State last Wednesday on the road, 65-57, before rebounding with a hard fought 74-68 win on Saturday against Fresno State.
It was the biggest dip in the rankings this season for Nevada. Earlier this year they fell four spots to No. 10 after a loss to New Mexico before ripping off 10 straight wins entering their first meeting with the Aztecs.
Nevada now just sits a half game ahead of Utah State in the Mountain West Conference standings with four games left in the regular season. They host UNLV tonight before a critical matchup with the Aggies Saturday in Logan that will play a big factor in who claims the conference championship.
The Pack’s last two games before the Mountain West tournament are at Air Force and home against San Diego State next week.
Nevada 74, Fresno State 68
RENO — After a loss in the last game, Nevada coach Eric Musselman told forward Tre’Shawn Thurman he would not start the next game. It’s something he also did after the Wolf Pack’s first loss of the season back in January, and they bounced back with wins both times.
Thurman had 14 points, a team-high 10 rebounds and four assists to help No. 6 Nevada narrowly avoid losing back-to-back games for the first time this season, beating Fresno State 74-68 Saturday night.
“We’ve lost two games now this year and both games I pulled Thurman out of the starting lineup, and he’s responded,” Musselman said. “We don’t win the game tonight without Tre having a really, really good game.”
Caleb Martin led the Wolf Pack with 24 points, Jordan Caroline added 17 and Jazz Johnson had 10 in his first start of the season.
Nevada (25-2, 12-2 Mountain West) trailed 62-60 with 4:34 left, but went on an 8-0 run over the next two minutes to grab its largest lead of the game.
When Fresno State pulled within three with 44 seconds left, Thurman dribbled from the wing and dunked on Fresno State’s New Williams, which sealed the win for the Wolf Pack.
“I thought about passing it out to run some clock out,” said Thurman, an Omaha transfer and fifth-year senior. “Somebody drove and freed me up, and when I pumped fake, I saw there was an opening, so I took it and went with it.”
Fresno State (19-8, 10-5) matched Nevada with 32 rebounds and outscored the Wolf Pack 28-20 in the paint.
“Guys are fighting, guys are pushing, guys are clawing, guys want to win,” Thurman said “That team wanted to win.it was definitely a tough game. The refs just let us play.”
Fresno State jumped to a fast start, connecting on its first four shots — all 3-pointers — en route to an early 12-6 lead.
Nevada shot 62 percent from beyond the arc in the first half to take a 42-39 lead at the break. The Wolf Pack finished 54 percent on 3s for the game.
Fresno State held Nevada to 33 percent shooting in the second half.
Deshon Taylor led Fresno State with 30 points on 11-for-19 shooting. Taylor’s effort mirrored his performance last time he played at Nevada and had a career-high 32 points on Jan. 31, 2018.
Nevada, which was coming off 65-57 loss at San Diego State on Wednesday, has four games remaining before the conference tournament, and then NCAA Tournament.
“We’re at the home stretch,” Johnson said. “There’s the tournament talks and all that stuff. … Guys can kind of look at that and look forward. The biggest thing is we have to stay focused on each game, especially with this stretch coming up.”
Musselman said several of his players were dealing with some injuries, but knows all teams go through that at this point of the season.
“(Cody Martin) got a pretty bad bone bruise against San Diego State and struggled,” Musselman said. “Caleb still has issues he is dealing with and, obviously, Jazz’s (Johnson) shoulder has kind of been a chronic thing. I’m sure if you ask Fresno, they have the same thing. … We’ve always finished strong and we hope that we can do it again this year.”
Johnson said his shoulder injury has lingered throughout his career since he was a freshman, but that he is working through it. He played a season-high 40 minutes Saturday.
SDSU 65, Nevada 57
SAN DIEGO — San Diego State stunned the No. 6 Wolf Pack 65-57 last Wednesday night, shutting down Jordan Caroline, snapping the Wolf Pack’s 10-game winning streak and prompting the reinvigorated student section to rush Steve Fisher Court at Viejas Arena, which was incredibly loud and sold out for the first time this season.
Nevada has lost only five games since late last season, including falling just a basket short of reaching the Elite Eight. Three of those defeats have been to the Aztecs. No other Division I team has beaten the same ranked opponent three times during the last year.
It was the highest-ranked opponent the Aztecs have ever beaten.
“We have to step up on a big stage and play,” said Musselman. “We’ve played in front of two really great crowds at New Mexico and here and we didn’t play like we are capable of.”
Caroline had only eight points and six rebounds.
“Mostly everyone we play plays zone defense,” Caroline said. “So I think their man defense affected our offense a little bit.”