by Jack Rieger
I’m standing in line at Imperial Bar and Lounge in downtown Reno following Nevada basketball’s 74-67 wire-to-wire loss to Boise State. It’s a standard winter night in Reno, meaning it’s absolutely freezing and there’s even a complementary wind gust that’s making me wonder why I didn’t go to school in Southern California. Out of the corner of my eye I see a couple of Nevada basketball players walk to the front of the line, as they’re allowed to bypass the numb mob of students who’ve been patiently freezing to death. You would think this would make me angry, but it doesn’t.
Nevada basketball is relevant again.
Wolf Pack continues to play with high energy
Through its first 17 games, Nevada basketball has posted a 10-7 record and a 2-3-conference record. At this same point last year, Nevada was 6-11 and would end up losing 11 out of its last 14. Nothing about this year’s squad resembles last year’s lethargic, discombobulated, incompetent group. Nevada pushes the tempo, it utilizes a full-court press, and its pregame show includes a dunk contest and a unicycle. And most importantly, the team expects to win every game. Coach Eric Musselman was clearly disappointed and visibly upset when Nevada lost a close game at home to Boise State, which was first in the conference at the time and had won 10 straight. This is a clear sign of Nevada’s improvement, considering they lost to the same team by 32 last season .
“I want to win every game,” Musselman said. “We came up short, we’re a poor shooting team and it continues to haunt us. … We got to just keep earning respect from everybody. Fans, media, referees. We got to earn everybody’s respect on a nightly basis.”
Shooting woes continue
Nevada has yet to take the next step as an effective shooting team, mostly because it doesn’t have many prominent outside shooters on its roster. Nevada ranks ninth in the Mountain West in field goal percentage and ninth in three-point shooting. Despite being a poor shooting team, Nevada actually ranks second in the MW in points per game, mostly because it gets to the free-throw line more often than anyone in the conference. The Wolf Pack needs DJ Fenner, Eric Cooper Jr. and Marqueze Coleman to score from the outside on a consistent basis in order to shoot well.
In December, senior center AJ West left the school for “personal reasons” and returned home to New York. West’s departure is a major blow to Nevada’s frontcourt, as the senior led the team in scoring and rebounding last season. West also has the third most blocks in Nevada history. West was referred to as a “complicated” player to coach by former Nevada coach David Carter, and coach Musselman has had his problems with him as well, as West was benched for a Nov. 25 game against Portland State for his “lack of effort this week in practice.”
You may not know much about this Wolf Pack basketball team, but there’s a good chance you’ve heard of freshman Cameron Oliver, who lights up Lawlor with his show-time dunks on a weekly basis. Oliver is averaging 10.5 points, 7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. Oliver’s real strength is using his athleticism in transition where he has the potential to put opposing players on a poster, but he’s also an underrated shooter with the ability to score 18 feet away from the basket. Oliver’s weakness is foul trouble, as he consistently finds himself picking up quick fouls around the basket. He has mentioned that he needs to find a balance between being an aggressive shot blocker and a smart defender. If Nevada plans on making a run at the MW championship, Cameron Oliver will be a primary contributor.