Nevada hosts New Mexico in rematch
NEW MEXICO (13-8, 6-3) AT NEVADA (17-4, 6-2)
WHEN: Today, 1 p.m.
WHERE: Lawlor Events Center
TV-RADIO: CBS Sports Network/94.5 FM
New Mexico: G: Elijah Brown (18.5, 4.9) and Jalen Harris (5.0, 1.9) or Jordan Hunter (5.3, 2.2); C: Obij Ajet (5.1, 2.9); F: Tim Williams (17.8, 7.1) and Dane Kuiper (6.9, 2.5)
Nevada: G. Lindsey Drew (6.4, 4.8), D.J. Fenner (14.0, 3.6) and Marcus Marshall (21.5, 2.5). F: Cameron Oliver (14.4, 8.0) and Jordan Caroline (13.9, 9.4).
RENO — Nevada basketball coach Eric Musselman has been asked continually if Josh Hall would return to the starting line-up now he’s healthy again.
Not a chance.
“We went down that road before,” Musselman said prior to Friday’s practice in preparation for today’s home game against New Mexico at 1 p.m. (CBS Sports Network/94.3 FM). “We asked D.J. to sacrifice his senior year after basically starting the last three years. He accepted that.
“Josh got hurt, unfortunately for him and the team. D.J. has done everything we’ve asked of him. He earned that spot. He is starting no matter what.”
Fenner has been sensational, elevating his scoring average to 14 a game. He has scored more than 20 points four times this year, including twice in the last three games. He scored 21 against Boise State on Wednesday, igniting a second-half surge with two 3-pointers that put the game away.
Fenner is averaging nearly 49 percent from beyond the arc, supplanting senior transfer Marcus Marshall for tops on the team.
“He’s possibly top five 3-point shooter in the country although it shows that he is slightly below the required number (of attempts),” Musselman said. “He is one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.
“D.J. has been consistent, and his approach to the game has been phenomenal. I think he’s always bought in, but I think he’s crossed over and is buying in (even) more.”
Consistency is one thing Nevada wants/needs from Cam Oliver. Oliver scored 17 points and pulled down 15 rebounds in the first-place showdown against Boise State.
“One thing my wife reminds me is that he’s only a sophomore,” Musselman said. “It’s not like he’s a junior or senior. We’re a young team with three sophomores who play 38 minutes a game.”
Nevada already has one win over New Mexico this year, and it was one for the ages. The Wolf Pack came from 25 down to force overtime, and then Jordan Caroline dropped in a 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds left to give the Pack a wild 105-104 come-from-behind victory. Caroline finished with a career-best 45 points in that game.
Musselman expects another hard-fought battle, and he’d certainly rather not have to come back from 25 down to put this one in the victory column.
“We have to come out in the beginning and play a better game,” Musselman said. “We took a lot of 3-balls early (in possessions), so I would like us to have more patience. We had some uncharacteristic turnovers, and Lindsey (Drew) was loose with the ball.
“New Mexico came in here last year and beat us. They are one of the most talented teams and really well coached. I have unbelievable respect for them. I felt coming into the season they were one of the top teams in the conference.”
NM coach Craig Neal said it will be business as usual for the Lobos.
“The kids are excited about it,” Neal said. “It’s a great game for our conference. We are going to do what we do; play the way we play. They are a tough team and they can score the ball. We’re going to have to play really good defense, and I think we’re capable of that.”
The Lobos rely heavily on two preseason first teamers — MW Preseason Player of the Year Elijah Brown and 6-8 forward Tim Williams, who average 18.5 and 17.8, respectively. Brown is the son of Golden State top assistant, Mike Brown.
“I felt Elijah and Tim played very well against us (in the overtime game),” Musselman said. “We have to do a better job of defending them than we did the first time which I think we will.
“I have all the respect in the world for them. They have put up numbers against everybody.”
Williams is a high-percentage shooter from 15 feet in, according to Musselman.
“He is your old-school post-up player,” Musselman said. “He is good with his back to the basket. He was a high school quarterback, so his vision when you try to trap him is really good.”