WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Dan Hinxman, who covers Nevada men’s basketball for the Reno Gazette-Journal about Saturday’s 4 p.m. game with the University of Wyoming at the Lawlor Events Center in Reno, Nev.
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How big was Nevada’s 62-50 road win at San Jose State for the team’s confidence after an up and down nonconference part of its schedule?
It was really big simply because this team didn’t know what it had yet. A loss to SJSU, one of the bottom two or three teams in the Mountain West, would have fractured its already delicate confidence, especially with the return of power forward A.J. West. With all the issues Nevada has had this season with injuries and ineligible players, it, too, was a bottom two or three team. Beating the Spartans doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not a bottom three team, but at least the players now know they’re better than that.
Senior guard Deonte Burton continues to be the team’s leader and work horse, but has his game changed any — for the good or bad — this season?
The new hand-check rules are helping Burton and it’s showing in his scoring output. Burton is leading the MW in scoring at more than 22 points per game, about six points more than he averaged last season (16.3). It has been easier for him to drive on defenses and get to the basketball. The biggest problem for Burton is he has played 249 of the team’s last 250 minutes because of the injury to back-up point guard Marqueze Coleman. Coleman should be back in about a week, and Burton needs that. His outside shot has been off a bit lately, probably because he has had no rest.
Nevada has a lot of new and inexperienced players along the frontcourt. Who has emerged in that area?
The top two inexperienced players who have made an impact are West, who played his third game against SJSU and had career highs in points (10) and rebounds (nine) to go with a couple of blocks, and Ronnie Stevens Jr., who has been out for the last three games following surgery for stress fractures. Stevens is a solid defender who can spell West if the two ever get on the floor together. Also, sophomore Cole Huff, a 6-8 forward, has come on strong lately. He’s averaging 10 points and 5.3 rebounds and he can hit the 3-point shot.
All conference games are important, but how big is this game for Nevada opening conference play at home against Wyoming?
This one is big for a handful of reasons. One, the Wolf Pack went 0-3 against the Cowboys last year. One way they can convince themselves that they have improved is to beat a team that they lost to three times a season ago. Two, they have not played well at home this season. They’re the only team in the MW with a better road record (minimum two games played home and away). Finally, coach David Carter always talks about protecting your home court and stealing a few wins on the road. If they win Saturday, they will have done just that in their opening two conference games.
What must Nevada do to be effective against Wyoming, and how do you see this game playing out?
First and foremost, West must avoid foul trouble against Larry Nance Jr. because he is likely the only player Nevada has who has a chance to effectively defend him. Secondly, it must continue to play solid defense. Nevada was not a good defensive team until West began to play and it probably played its best defensive game against SJSU, holding the Spartans to just their second sub-60-point effort this season. Third, it must get balanced scoring because Burton can’t be expected to put up 20-plus points every night when he’s so fatigued. Having said all that, I have no idea what to think. Nevada probably should win this game – it’s at home the teams are probably fairly even – but the Pack hasn’t played well at home yet. There is a confidence battle going on: We’re getting better (good) but can’t seem to play well at home (bad). They had a good game in Reno against Iona, winning 80-72 on Dec. 22, so I’ll let the good confidence win this one. Nevada 71, Wyoming 66.