Nevada Wolf Pack brings experience to NCAA Tournament this year |

Nevada Wolf Pack brings experience to NCAA Tournament this year

by Darrell Moody
Nevada’s Jordan Caroline, left, ties up the Aztec’s Jordan Schakel in the second half of their semifinal game of the Mountain West Conference Championships Friday at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.
Steve Ranson/LVN |

RENO – One thing Nevada will bring Friday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena is NCAA Tournament experience, though all of it was from other schools.

During their freshman season at North Carolina State, Caleb and Cody Martin were part of a Wolfpack team that reached the Sweet 16 before losing. Kendall Stephens made an NCAA appearance with Purdue, and Hallice Cooke made an appearance with Iowa State.

Nevada, 27-7 and seeded seventh, is hoping that tournament experience pays off when it battles 10th-seeded Texas on Friday at 1:30 p.m. in Nashville.

“Experience will play a big part in the journey,” junior forward Caleb Martin said. “For some guys last year was the first time. I think it will be helpful when we get to Nashville. We have to stay composed. We’re going to get everybody’s best play. Anything can happen. We have to stay composed all the way through.”

“It’s nice to know that guys have been in that position before,” Cody Martin said. “I don’t think one person had that experience (that played last year). We’ll talk about the experience and let other guys know; let them know there is nothing to be nervous about and just play like they’ve been playing all season.”

Cody Martin is probably more excited than his brother. He didn’t get to play in any three of the N.C. State NCAA contests. This will be his first active experience.

That’s easy to say but hard to do. Nevada had the deer-in-the-headlights look when it took the floor against Iowa State. The Pack fell behind by 13 at the half en route to an 84-73 setback in Milwaukee.

“Last year helped,” said forward Jordan Caroline. “We won’t go in and be shellshocked. We weren’t prepared for the moment. We weren’t ready to play the game.”

Caroline and Josh Hall are the only active players who played in the game last year besides the injured Lindsey Drew. Charlie Tooley didn’t see any action last year.

Getting here hasn’t been as easy as it might look to the casual bystander. The Pack has had to deal with several injuries, and is essentially a seven-player team, and has been most of the season.

“Last year we were who we were the whole year,” coach Eric Musselman said. “We’ve had to overcome a lot this year. Cody was sick at the San Diego State game (semifinal loss). He was sick the day before and it got worse. To be able to do what we did without Lindsey is remarkable. We already had a limited roster.”

“It’s rewarding,” Cody Martin said. “It feels good. This team fought through adversity no matter what. It shows we’re mentally strong. We’re willing to do anything to get what we want. We want to make a run in this tournament.”

It’s entirely possible. Texas was 8-10 in the toughest conference in the country, and the Longhorns aren’t a good offensive team, but they can play defense. Nevada and Texas are coming off losses in their respective conference tournaments. Nevada lost by 17 to red-hot San Diego State and Texas lost by four to Texas Tech. Nevada blew a late second-half lead at Texas Tech and lost by six in overtime early in the season.

“It (SDSU loss) left a bitter taste in our mouths,” Cody Martin said. “We’re eager to play our next game. It’s going to be exciting, and we’ll be ready to play. I think it’s doable. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves. It’s not going to be an easy game. They are a talented team.”