Conference title within Nevada Wolf Pack’s grasp

Josh Hall takes a fadeaway jumper for Nevada recently against Fresno State.

Josh Hall takes a fadeaway jumper for Nevada recently against Fresno State.

RENO — The first to-do on Nevada’s basketball checklist is to win the Mountain West regular-season title.

The 20th-ranked Wolf Pack (23-5, 12-2) can actually make that happen this week with home wins over San Jose State on Wednesday (7 p.m., ESPN3) and Colorado State on Sunday (1 p.m.).

“That would be great,” said junior forward Jordan Caroline earlier this week. “It would be a great way for our seniors (Elijah Foster, Hallice Cooke and Kendall Stephens) to go out. One step at a time. It (winning league) is definitely one of our goals and it’s within our grasp.”

The second goal would be to repeat as Mountain West Tournament champions and the third would be to win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament. The last time Nevada won an NCAA game was when it beat Creighton in overtime in 2007 in New Orleans. The Pack lost to Iowa State in the first round last year in Milwaukee.

“It’s big, just showing people we can win the regular season and the conference would show how dominant we can be,” junior swingman Caleb Martin added.

Nevada coach Eric Musselman doesn’t want his team, however, to be looking past San Jose State, which is winless in Mountain West play under rookie head coach Jean Prioleau.

“Our No. 1 priority is how to beat San Jose State and No. 2 is how to win the regular-season championship. We still have to win two games to do that. We had a celebration (at home) in year 1 (CBI championship) and a celebration last year. That doesn’t usually happen. We’ll see what happens Wednesday and then we play again Sunday.

“I would hope to have two great crowds. I hope the season ticketholders come out. There is only 80 minutes (of home games) left, and we won’t play another game in Lawlor for a long time. I hope they rally around what the team has accomplished. This team earned the right to play in front of two great crowds, especially being in the top 20.”

The Pack will be heavy favorites in both games this week, even more so because Lawlor has become a pit. The Wolf Pack is 41-5 at home under Musselman, 30-2 in its last 32 home games and 34-3 in its last 37.

“It’s crazy,” Caroline said. “It’s like night and day. My first year (a redshirt year) not too many people came to the games early on, and then the CBI everybody came. It’s been great. We’ve lost only once this year (UNLV), and I wish we could have that back. They bring great energy; really help you.”

“The crowd has done a tremendous job adding fuel,” Caleb Martin said. “Every time we’re down the crowd is on their feet and helps us out.”

Nevada will face a hungry team Wednesday. The Spartans haven’t won since Dec. 21 against Santa Clara (75-63). Six of those losses have been by seven points or less, and two of the games went overtime (82-76 vs UNLV and 90-86 vs. Wyoming). Guarding against overconfidence should be No. 1 on the Pack’s checklist.

“We have to stay focused, treat (this week) like we’re playing Boise, UNLV or San Diego State,” Caleb Martin said. “Two big games. We can’t take teams lightly or it will turn into a USF game and we’ll get smacked in the mouth. We have to treat these like the biggest games (of the season).”

Wednesday’s game will be the second without junior point guard Lindsey Drew, who ruptured his Achilles right before the halftime horn at Boise State. Cody Martin took over as the team’s main ballhandler, and he poured in a career-high 30 points at Utah State.

“Cody can post up and does a great job of offensive rebounding,” Musselman said. “He’s a great ballhandler with excellent court vision, and he showed he can score the ball.

“Already made adjustments (not having Drew). We played a little different against Utah State. We put in a certain play package. We’re taking stuff out and adding stuff. We want to keep evolving.”

Cody Martin went 13-for-18 shooting, grabbed nine rebounds and dished out four assists. As usual, he filled up the stat sheet.

“Cody stepped up big,” Caroline said. “He played great and still got people involved.”

“I’ve seen him shoot like that (before),” Caleb Martin said. “We’ve played on multiple teams together. I’ve seen that look a couple of different times before. I knew he was getting comfortable.”

The Pack is hoping he can stay in that comfort zone a while longer.


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