WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Chris Murray, who covers Nevada men’s basketball for the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Eight-seeded Wyoming (18-12 overall, 4-12 Mountain West) plays ninth-seeded Nevada (12-18, 3-13) at 6 p.m. today in the play-in game at the Mountain West Tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
Question: How is the Wolf Pack in terms of its physical and mental states heading into the play-in game with Wyoming?
Answer: The Wolf Pack had a lull late in the year when it looked like it had given up on the season. That period included a 20-point loss at Wyoming and a 26-point loss at Boise State. The team is playing with much more vigor of late, but it has still dropped its past five games by double-digits. In recent seasons, the Wolf Pack’s energy has taken a nice step forward in conference tournament play, which is to be expected, and I think the same thing will happen this week. As far as injuries are concerned, starting wing play Jerry Evans Jr. (shooting wrist) missed the last game and is questionable, but I expect him to play.
Q: Do you think Wyoming’s two wins over Nevada during the regular season mean a lot going into this game?
A: Those wins gave Wyoming a blueprint for how to beat Nevada, which is important. All you have to do is slow the game down, stop the penetration from Deonte Burton and Malik Story and feed Leonard Washington and you should be fine. If Burton and Story both struggle, the Wolf Pack can’t win. If one of them struggles, Nevada probably won’t win. They need both guys firing since the team’s role players haven’t offered much this season. Wyoming has done a nice job of limiting the Wolf Pack’s two top players and making the role players beat them.
Q: What are the biggest factors Nevada must overcome in this game it wasn’t able to in the first two games?
A: Scoring and stopping Washington. The Wolf Pack tallied just 48 points in both of its games against Wyoming. The Cowboys defense has made Nevada’s offense stagnant. Wyoming has really slowed the game down and had things a halfcourt game, and Nevada can’t win that way. Washington’s presence (he’s averaging 16 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, four steals and 3.5 blocks against the Pack) has hurt Nevada. The Pack does not have somebody who can match his physical style of play. Washington’s recent injuries help Nevada, but the Pack has to limit him somewhat.
Q: Burton and Story have been two of the most productive duos in the Mountain West this season. Is the biggest key to beating Nevada slowing one or both of them down, or is there something else, in your opinion?
A: That’s the key. The Wolf Pack’s offense is so limited it needs Story and Burton to combine for at least 35-40 points to have a shot to win games in the Mountain West. They’re both capable scorers, but they can’t have average nights for Nevada to win. They need to be great.
Q: How do you see this game playing out, and who advances to play top-seeded New Mexico?
A: This is a bad match-up for Nevada for a number of reasons. Wyoming’s defensive strategy, its slow pace and the presence of Washington all give Nevada fits. The safe pick is to give the check mark to Wyoming, but I’m going with Nevada. Story has played really well in conference tournaments and I think he’ll have a big night and lift Nevada past Wyoming. If Washington was completely healthy, I’d go the other way.