It seems like forever since the Nevada band has played “Sweet Caroline.” Instead, it’s been a lot of smooth Jazz on the television from a team tuning up nicely for its conference season.
On Saturday, the No. 7-ranked Wolf Pack men’s basketball team will play its first home game since Nov. 19 when it hosts South Dakota State in Reno’s Lawlor Events Center.
A huge hometown crowd can expect to see a team much as fans last saw it — one that’s undefeated, using defense and rebounding to spark scoring opportunities, and one that’s dominant in the second half. It’s a veteran team with seven fifth-year seniors, including Jordan Caroline, who on Monday racked up his third Mountain West Player of the Week honor. He is averaging 15.6 points and 10.2 rebounds a game.
What’s new? Jazz Johnson has firmly established himself as the sixth man. He shoots so accurately the Wolf Pack rifle team might feel gun shy. The team’s smallest player at 5-foot-10, Johnson’s shooting percentages are great: .587 from the floor, .556 from 3-point range and .931 from the free throw line. The junior transfer from Portland is averaging 12.6 points a game, third best on the team behind Caroline and Caleb Martin (18.7), The AP preseason All-American swingman.
Nevada’s 10-0 record is the team’s best start since it became an NCAA Division I competitor in 1969.
The matchup with the 8-3 South Dakota State Jackrabbits is intriguing for at least a couple of reasons. It has a player who has received as much media attention as the Martin twins and another who has been a college basketball player longer than any of the Wolf Pack players.
Jackrabbits’ 6-foot-9 senior forward Mike Daum might be an NBA Lottery pick. He’s averaging 25.2 points and 10.3 rebounds and is coming off his fourth game in which he’s scored 40 or more points. He’s the Summit League’s all-time leading scorer and two-time Player of the Year and was an honorable mention AP All American.
Guard Skyler Flatten redshirted his freshman year and later missed an entire season due to injury. The NCAA granted him a sixth year. Last season, the 6-6 guard led the Summit League in field goal percentage.
Guard David Jenkins is another notable Jackrabbit. He broke the league’s freshman scoring record last year and this season is averaging 22 points and is shooting .500 from the 3-point arch.
South Dakota State plays Savannah State on Tuesday night.
Last weekend, Nevada won a pair of neutral-site games. Caroline averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds.
On Friday in Los Angeles, the Wolf Pack overcame a 12-point halftime deficit to defeat No. 20 Arizona State, 72-66. Nevada has outscored its opponents in the second half 459-355.
On Sunday in Phoenix a few miles away from the Grand Canyon campus, free throws made the difference in Nevada’s 74-66 win. Johnson went 8-for-8 and the Wolf Pack was 24 of 29. The Antelopes, coached by former Phoenix Suns star Dan Majerle, were 6 of 8 from the free-throw line.
— Tim Parsons