Nevada loses to SDSU 90-73 in the MW basketball tournament in Las Vegas.
LAS VEGAS – After Nevada retreated to its locker room after its shocking shellacking from San Diego State in the Mountain West Tournament semifinals, the Martin twins covered their heads with towels.
They began to sob and their teammates tried to console them, patting their backs and letting them know there were more battles to fight. The Wolf Pack’s dream of winning a second MW championship this season died Friday night at the Thomas & Mack Center, but its season will move forward.
Nevada wasn’t pressed into the situation it was in at this event last season. It didn’t have to win the MW Tournament to reach the Big Dance. The Wolf Pack was already in, barring a “zombie apocalypse,” per ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, but the loss still stung, enough to elicit tears from Nevada’s top players.
“We can learn something from this, and our next opportunity as a team we have to be ready to play,” Wolf Pack forward Jordan Caroline said. “We can’t take anything for granted. From here on out it’s one or done, we do or die.”
Nevada entered the SDSU game as a six seed in ESPN’s Bracketology. After the game, it was projected as a seventh seed. The Wolf Pack was not in danger of missing out on the NCAA Tournament, but coach Eric Musselman still recited his team’s résumé for the 10-person selection committee just in case.
“We certainly feel we’re one of the best teams in the country, without question,” Musselman said. “And if we just got hot recently or something and then lost, maybe not, but we’ve been so consistent from the very beginning. We put together an unbelievable non-conference schedule. We won on the road at a high, high, high rate, so we certainly think the NCAA Tournament selection committee looks at the entire body of work. We feel like we’ve done more than enough based on how we played an entire season, not getting hot during a stretch or anything like that. We do feel like we have done enough.”
The Wolf Pack’s list of accomplishments is weighty: 16th in the RPI; 25th in Ken Pomeroy’s metrics; seven weeks in the Top 25; 27 wins, all against Division I teams; two quadrant one victories; an outright Mountain West regular-season title; and 12 road wins, which are tied for the most in the nation. It’s an impeccable list of successes that is expected to be more than enough for Nevada’s first at-large berth since 2007 (and just third overall).
“We went out and did what the committee told us, which was to schedule as many road games as you could,” Musselman said. “And we went out and won on the road. Twelve road wins is a lot of road wins. And we didn’t stay in our region and play a bunch of local games at home. We didn’t do that. We went out and played. We have no Division II teams on our schedule. And we have confidence the body of work that we’ve done, we’ll be playing – we’ll find out who we’re playing Sunday. That’s how we feel.”
The Wolf Pack (27-7) will wade in its next game coming off its worst performance of the season. Nevada hadn’t lost by double digits all year, making it one of five teams to go through the regular season with that distinction. But, it was ambushed Friday night, dropping behind by 34 points and trailing by 30 at intermission, marking the largest halftime hole by a Top 25 team against an unranked foe since 2001.
The semifinal loss provides Nevada some extra rest heading into the NCAA Tournament, which isn’t a small concession prize given how thin and banged up the Wolf Pack is. But, the 90-73 loss, which wasn’t even that close, also could provide a shot to Nevada’s psyche. The team has a week to regroup.
“We had obviously our worst outing of the year not at a good time,” Musselman said. “Having said that, we’re not a team that lost three out of four or anything like that. We played an entire season of college basketball and were a ranked team for the last five weeks and seven total weeks. We’ve had an incredible season and we didn’t play very good tonight, and we played against a good team that I think is extremely talented.”
Nevada will undoubtedly draw another talented team in the NCAA Tournament. It would like to avoid the No. 8 versus No. 9 game because the winner of that one will face a No. 1 seed in the second round. But, the loss to SDSU put the Wolf Pack’s seeding in peril. Nevada’s floor appears to be a 10 seed, which might not be the worst-case scenario as it would avoid a second-round matchup with a top seed, but the Wolf Pack should be more focused on getting back to a high level of play than on its seeding.
Nevada lost to San Diego State, 90-73, in the semifinals of the Mountain West Tournament on Friday in Las Vegas. Coach Eric Musselman addresses the loss.
Since an impressive road sweep of Boise State and Utah State in mid-February, the Wolf Pack hasn’t been nearly as sharp. Uneven home wins against MW bottom-feeders San Jose State and Colorado State followed. Nevada then wrecked UNLV on the road before losing at SDSU. The MW Tournament didn’t bring improved play as the Wolf Pack squeezed past the Rebels despite trailing by 12 in the second half before the lopsided loss to SDSU. Of Nevada’s six games, it has played really well only once (at UNLV last week).
“Every game you lose is an opportunity to learn something,” Wolf Pack guard Hallice Cooke said. “And we’ve got a lot of guys hurting right now. And to be a person who faced a lot of adversity, this is the first time this season, losing with double digits, I’m sure we’re going to bounce back in practice. Coach is going to come with that same energy and enthusiasm and passion that he brings every day.”
The MW Tournament did not provide a storybook ending like last season, when Nevada beat Colorado State to win the conference crown. Instead, it brought pain, tears and perhaps a hit to Nevada’s confidence. But, after a full slate of 32 regular-season games and two more in the postseason, one thing is for sure.
“They’re an NCAA Tournament team,” SDSU coach Brian Dutcher said of Nevada. “There’s no question about it.”
Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurrayRGJ.
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