Tuesday 20th March, 2018
32 ℉ | 51 ℉Reno

No. 22 Nevada seeks revenge vs. San Diego State

Sports Xchange - Friday 9th March, 2018

There might not be a more confident team than the Nevada Wolf Pack.

Trailing by eight at halftime Thursday on the enemy's home court, Nevada coach Eric Musselman was more panicked than his players. The No. 22 Wolf Pack had just played their worst half of the season and were in danger of losing to archrival UNLV at the Thomas Mack Center.

Then the Rebels made their first two shots of the second half and the Wolf Pack were down by 12.

"Throughout the whole season we've always been battle-tested, so I feel like we weren't really new to (trailing)," Kendall Stephens told the Reno Gazette Journal. "It was a tournament game, so it has a little different atmosphere as far as the other teams can play their best game. ... We handled it well. Once shots started to drop, we started to get our identity back."

And suddenly, the swagger and confidence was back and the Wolf Pack defeated the Rebels 79-74 to advance to Friday's Mountain West Tournament semifinal game against San Diego State at the Thomas Mack Center in Las Vegas.

San Diego State defeated Fresno State 64-62 on Thursday.

Top-seeded Nevada (27-6) had to hold its breath while a Jovan Mooring 3-point attempt that would have tied the game late missed badly.

Musselman and the Wolf Pack could celebrate even if just for a short moment.

"At halftime, they kept telling me that I was the one panicked and not them," Musselman said. "They're a confident group and you can't be ranked team for five straight weeks if you're not a team that can overcome adversity."

Nevada quickly erased the deficit by connecting on 10 of its first 12 shots of the second half -- including five straight 3-point shots -- to open a nine-point lead.

While the Martin brothers -- Caleb and Cody -- combined to score only 19 points, 14.5 below their season average, Jordan Caroline and Josh Hall picked up the slack and more importantly reminded the team of how in last year's MW tournament, Nevada overcame an 11-point halftime disadvantage to win that game by double digits.

Caroline finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Hall chipped in with 16 points and four boards.

The win sets up another revenge game for the Wolf Pack. The Aztecs have won seven straight, including a regular-season ending 79-74 win over Nevada.

"I'd like to play San Diego State for revenge," Stephens said.

He'll get his wish after the Aztecs dispatched the Bulldogs 64-52 in their quarterfinal game at the Thomas Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Trey Kell scored 16 points and Malik Pope added 12 points for the fifth-seeded Aztecs (20-10).

The third time was the charm for San Diego State, which had lost its two regular-season games to Fresno State.

"I just feel like we lock in really well in the first game, and we don't take any game for granted, no matter who the opponent is," Kell told the Daily Aztec. "There was some added motivation knowing we haven't beat (Fresno) yet this year."

After a sloppy first half, San Diego took a 29-26 lead into halftime. The Aztecs led 42-28 when the defense took over and forced Fresno turnovers on five straight possessions.

"I think we saw the improvement is we're better defensively," coach Brian Dutcher said. "We're harder to score on. We look like Aztec teams of old."

The Aztecs defense will have its hands full against the Wolf Pack, who average 83.5 points per game and can score in bunches as they proved Thursday.

In the regular-season ending loss to the Aztecs, Caroline had 29 points and Caleb Martin 22 for Nevada. Kell led the Aztecs with 17 points and nine assists.

On Feb. 10 in Reno, Caroline recorded 26 points and Stephens added 21 in an 83-58 Wolf Pack victory. Caleb Martin and Kell missed that game.

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