Nevada looked OK in the first half of its exhibition basketball game Sunday with Washington.
Both teams started out hot on offense. The visiting Huskies stayed hot longer, and they went on a 10-1 run. However, the Wolf Pack roared back with a run of its own. The crowd was fired up and Lawlor Events Center felt like it did last season. That Sweet 16 season. Every time Jordan Caroline scored, the band sang a cappela “Sweet Caroline.” At intermission, Nevada led by a point.
Then disaster. Nevada’s defense didn’t show up in the second half, Washington scored 52 points and won by 18. Afterward, it was like coach Eric Musselman sang a different Neil Diamond tune, “Song Sung Blue.”
The coach said it was the worst home performance since he arrived in Reno four years ago. In fact, his teams have never lost a nonconference home game.
The Wolf Pack wasn’t prepared for Washington’s zone defense, which prevented Nevada from any rhythm. In the second half, it was strange to see Wolf Pack defenders not setting traps, not playing with their palms in ball-handlers’ faces and not diving for loose balls.
Calmly yet curtly, the coach said this might be one of the worst defensive teams in all of college basketball. Bad lateral-foot-speed guys. Abysmal. A joke. So inept at man-to-man, Musselman said, he was going to ask his dog Swish if they should start playing zone.
Then he said what no player wants to hear. They quit with about 3.5 minutes left in the game.
It got worse.
The nine-man rotation he used? “I’m not subbing like that ever again.”
There is nothing more important to a player than playing time. Not eating. Not his girlfriend. Not his smartphone. Well, scratch that last one. But more important than food or girls.
Corey Henson, Jazz Johnson, Nisre Zouzoua and Tre’Shawn Thurman didn’t transfer to Nevada just to be able to say they were on the practice team that helped prepare the Wolf Pack for an amazing NCAA Tournament performance. Graduate student Trey Porter didn’t move 3,000 miles to sit on the bench. And prize recruit Jordan Brown probably can’t even comprehend the notion of not playing.
Those players can’t relax. Wolf Pack supporters can.
Nobody should expect Nevada to start off like it ended last season, performing at the high level that it did in come-from-behind victories upon a national stage against Texas and Cincinnati and dropping a one-point thriller vs. Loyola-Chicago. The next March Madness is a long, long way off. The leaves haven’t even fallen off the trees yet. There’s another month until Thanksgiving.
So, let’s drink it all in. Nevada had a pretty good half and a very bad half in its first practice game. I say the glass is half-full.
Hey, even if Musselman goes back to a six-man rotation, three of those guys are preseason All-Mountain West: Caroline, Cody Martin and Caleb Martin, who also is an AP preseason All-American. And Lindsey Drew is progressing well in his recovery from an achilles injury. He’s expected to be a full strength by the time conference play begins, if not sooner.
With the remainder of the players being new, it will take some time for the team to gel. Just look at the winless Lakers and their new guy, LeBron James. Who doubts that team will get better? Talent is necessary but cohesive teamwork is essential to greatness.
There is obvious potential we saw from the six new players who saw action on Sunday. And there are hungry guys behind them who doubtless are fighting for an opportunity.
After the “abysmal” game, Musselman and the Martins each mentioned the team’s poor practice habits. The harsh words from the coach and team’s leaders certainly will carry into the practices.
“We’ve got to figure it out come tomorrow,” a determined Cody Martin proclaimed.
The NCCA allowed 12 additional preseason practices this year, and Musselman acknowledged that his players trained hard in the offseason. An embarrassing exhibition loss and a wide-open competition for playing time are fitting motivators for a weary group anxious for the regular season to begin. This team will be fine.
And that idea of Musselman using a zone defense? If a dog could laugh, it would be Swish.
— Tim Parsons
The University of Nevada men’s basketball team will host San Francisco State in the Throwback Game at the Virginia Street Gym at 7 p.m. Friday.
Fans are asked to wear their favorite throwback attire for the game.
The visiting NCAA Division II Gators of the California Collegiate Athletic Association are led by second-year head coach Vince Inglima, who played at Carson High School and was the Northern Nevada Player of the Year in 2001-2002.
The Wolf Pack is ranked seventh in the preseason Associated Press poll, the highest ranking in school history. On Thursday, the first USA Today Coaches Poll ranked Nevada No. 9.
Tickets are $25 per person. To purchase tickets go to NevadWolfPack.com or call 775-348-PACK (7225). On Friday, tickets will not be available at the door and the ticket office will be closed in observance of Nevada Day. Tickets may be purchased on Friday until 5 p.m. at NevadaWolfPack.com or by speaking with a ticket representative by calling 775-348-PACK (7225). Last year’s event sold out and this year’s is expected to as well. There is no reserved parking for the game.
A portion of the 1,800-seat gym has been reserved for university students, who will be admitted free with a student ID.