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 for Saturday’s game at the University of Wyoming. Tip-off is at 2 p.m. at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie.
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Nevada has to be one of the surprises in the Mountain West at 5-1. Has this start surprised you, and what have been the biggest factors?
Yes, I am surprised with how much success it has had so far, given how it played through the first 11 games (4-7) and some of the teams it lost to (Morehead State, Cal State Bak-ersfield and Long Beach State, to name a few). A.J. West’s defensive presence has made a big impact on the team, and other players have stepped up their defensive effort since then, too. Another factor is the Wolf Pack has had one of the easiest starts to conference play so far, having not had to take on San Diego State or New Mexico yet.
Senior guard Deonte Burton is still the league’s leading scorer, but he seems to be getting a lot more help this season along the frontcourt. Would you say that is a big factor in the team’s improvement so far this season?
Yes, the addition of West and the maturation of sophomore forward Cole Huff, who had a career-high 31 points to go with eight rebounds in the 96-86 double-overtime win at Fresno State on Wednesday, has made a huge difference. This team had little interior presence last season and opponents knew if they took away Burton with multiple defenders they had a good shot to beat Nevada. This season other players are stepping up, particularly Huff offensively, and making it difficult to play off of anybody.
West and Huff had a combined 27 points and 18 rebounds against Wyoming in Nevada’s 61-58 win in Reno on Jan. 4. Will those two be a focal point again Saturday?
That’s hard to say. I don’t think coach David Carter wants to force anything offensively, especially against such a good and deliberate defensive team such as Wyoming. Nevada doesn’t need a lot from West offensively. It needs him to limit Larry Nance Jr. and defend the interior. Offensive balance is likely a bigger factor. Huff, though, has been hitting his outside shots this season. It would certainly help them if he (and other shooters) can stretch the Cowboys defense.
Nevada is 7-3 in games decided by three points or less or in overtime, 3-0 in conference play on the road and 6-2 on the road overall. What has it done to be that successful?
Burton has always been a clutch performer, and this is his team. It makes sense that other players and the team in general take on his personality to some degree. Also, it has helped that two of the MW road wins have come against the two teams in last and second-to-last place (San Jose State and Fresno State). It’s hard to imagine the Wolf Pack having any real success on the road against the top five or six teams in the conference.
How do you see Saturday’s game going?
I expect Nance to have a much better game now that he knows West better and has the bulletin-board material provided by West after the Nevada win three weeks ago – saying he didn’t know who Nance was and he treated him like any other player. The Wolf Pack has never won in Laramie. No reason to think this should be any different. But it will likely be a defensive game, so it should be close.