New Mexico vs. Nevada: Three Keys to a Lobos Victory
No. 5/6 Nevada heads to the pit boasting a fiery 14-0 record
How can New Mexico cool Nevada’s hot streak?
So just how do you stop a team that is 5th in adjusted offense, 22nd in adjusted defense and 14-0 against the 79th most difficult schedule in the country?
14 teams have tried to grapple with the veteran laden team that reached the sweet sixteen just under a year ago, and only a handful have come out with single digit losses. What teams that can claim this mighty feat? There are four, which happened to come in four consecutive games. They are: (then #20) Arizona State, Grand Canyon, South Dakota State and Akron.
So what did these teams do to keep it close with one of the best in the West?
Here are the keys to victory (or at least a single digit loss) for the Lobos:
1. Play hard-nosed defense but limit fouls.
In their 72-68 loss to the Wolf Pack, South Dakota State out-shot Nevada from the field and from three, holding the Wolf Pack to a 33.8% field goal percentage overall and 25.6% three-point field goal percentage for the game. They also won the battle of the boards by a margin of four.
So what went wrong?
The Jackrabbits fouled 24 times, which allowed Nevada to nab 18 free points from the line to the Jackrabbits’ 11. One might wonder if difficulty staying in front of Nevada’s top-tier talent may have something to do with that.
Nevada is a solid free throw shooting team, scoring on 74.5% of their free-throw attempts. They also rank 13th in the nation in free throws attempted. If the Lobos can limit this number, they’ll be doing themselves a huge favor as foul trouble has been an issue for them in several games.
2. If you’re up big, you’re still not safe, Lobos. (Nevada, you’re probably okay.)
After being down by as many as 15 to Arizona State, Nevada kicked things into high gear in the second half against the Sun Devils and came away with a six point win. Against Grand Canyon, the Wolf pack were once down by a score of 14-2, before howling their way to a 74-66 victory. More recently, Akron was up by nine points in the first half before the lead quickly slipped through its fingers.
In fact, Nevada has developed quite the reputation as the comeback team under Musselman. They also have not shown to be a team that lets up when up big either. Just look at the Wolf Pack’s recent win against Utah State.
3. Don’t let Jordan Caroline (or any other player for that matter) score 45 points.
Lobo fans are sure to remember a heartbreaking comeback the last time Nevada visited The Pit, when Jordan Caroline erupted for 45 points and couldn’t miss.
When they last visited The Pit, Nevada was carried by Caroline to one of the greatest comebacks in college basketball. Once down 25 points, and down 14 with just over a minute left, the Wolf Pack walked away the hard-fought winners of a 105-104 overtime victory. Caroline finished with 45 points, the most scored by a New Mexico opponent playing in The Pit in Lobo basketball history.
This time will have to be different. While a second performance of making banked in, contested threes is unlikely from Caroline, the Lobos will have to be prepared for the worst. After all, Nevada probably won’t need that from him a second time.
They’ll do well to continue using a zone defensive scheme against the Wolf Pack – especially a 2-3 zone.
Eric Musselman‘s squad boasts a 55.3% two point field goal percentage on the season (67th in the nation) and while they like to shoot the three ball (79th in the nation in three-pointers attempted) they are, statistically, utterly average from beyond the arc with a 34.3% three-point field goal percentage (183rd among NCAA Division I programs).
In spite of this average team percentage, the Lobos must be aware that Nevada brings one of the nation’s top three-point shooters into the contest in Jazz Johnson (56.9% three-point percentage) alongside the likes of the Martin twins, five-star freshman Jordan Brown and that fabled Caroline shot.
Make no mistake, Nevada can catch fire from three, but if the Lobos can limit the two ball for the Wolf Pack, they might just have some hope of keeping the game respectable, and maybe even stunning the top dogs in the Mountain West.
That is, if this doesn’t happen. . .