The Nevada men’s basketball team once again went on the road to take on UC Irvine this past Saturday. The Wolf Pack wound up victorious after finding themselves trailing the Anteaters by two at the conclusion of the first half. After a less than stellar first half, the Wolf Pack was victorious and tacked on another win to its best start to a season in its NCAA Division I history.
Nevada, which will continue its road trip with games against AP top 25-ranked teams at Lubbock, Texas, against Texas Tech, followed by a neutral site game against TCU, looked tired defensively, a product of a grueling early-season schedule.
“Tonight, was the first time I thought we looked a little worn out,” head coach Eric Musselman said. “I think just a lot of the traveling stuff. We looked like it caught up to us. I think Irvine played real hard, very physical team. Again, I thought last year, it’s a game where we would have struggled more than we did this year. It wasn’t the prettiest offensive game but to win on the road in a double-digit game was really hard to do.”
The Wolf Pack had the clear size disadvantage down low as the Anteaters were one of the first teams this season to effectively impose their size on the Wolf Pack. UC Irvine outscored the Wolf Pack 42-24 in points in the paint. However, Musselman was pleased with how his team was able to counter the lack of size with effective scoring from long-range.
“I think that it looked like we didn’t have size down low but on the other end we were doing what we needed to have separation so we are who we are,” Musselman said. “We have an identity and style. If Kendall doesn’t get into foul trouble, I think we could extend that maybe a little bit more than we did because he was really hot and we missed him when he went out as much as anything but they’re a really great rebounding team no question about it. We’ve done a great job rebounding the ball. Tonight, we didn’t.”
Nevada had four players score in double-digits in Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline, and Kendall Stephens. That group accounted for 88 percent of the night’s offense.
Stephens, the sharpshooting senior transfer from Purdue was able to provide Nevada’s equalizer for its lack of size. He provided some much-needed scoring by contributing 17 points (on 6-of-8 shooting; 5-of-7 from 3PT). In the early part of the season, Stephens has taken a back seat in the scoring department with the emergence of the Martin twins. However, prior to the game, Caleb Martin wanted to make sure that he wasn’t lost in the offense.
“I got a text from Caleb and he said, ‘Hey let’s runs some stuff for Kendall early,’” Musselman said. “And that’s the type of teammates we have because Caleb’s a big-time scorer and here is texting me and he said, ‘Hey do you have any new plays we can add to try and get Kendall kickstarted that the opponent hasn’t seen yet.’ And we added a couple of stuff last game for Kendall and I think he carried over that performance here tonight.”
Nevada was able to shake off the dead legs and get into a better groove in the second half en route to a 76-65 victory. Caroline posted a double-double on the night by scoring 24 points and hauling in 13 rebounds. Of those 24 points, 15 came in the second half.
Despite Darien Williams and Elijah Foster only logging a combined total of 11 minutes, Nevada was able to find enough separation despite the disadvantage on the boards. While the Wolf Pack struggled in the first half, they were able to find more breathing room in the second half. Nevada was able to outscore the Anteaters by 13 in the second half to eked out a close one in Irvine.
“I made a conscious effort with about 16 minutes to go whether we were gonna put a big in to rebound and I thought when we got a little bit of a cushion, and that thing was bouncing back and forth between eight and ten, I felt like we just wanted to just keep our shooters out there and score enough points,” Musselman said. “We were kind of exchanging threes for twos at one point and they were scoring a ton of points in the paint. We were able to knock down some threes that kind of separated it. We’ve played with five guys out without a true post guy and I thought it helped us offensively.”
With the UC Irvine victory, Nevada, in the Dec. 4 edition of the Associated Press rankings, was ranked 22nd. This is the first time that the Wolf Pack has been ranked since Eric Musselman has been hired.