Nevada Wolf Pack heads to Irvine looking for Top 25 spot | SierraSun.com

Nevada Wolf Pack heads to Irvine looking for Top 25 spot

Darrell Moody
dmoody@nevadaappeal.com

Nevada's Jordan Caroline dunks against Illinois State on Wednesday at Lawlor Events Center.

When Associated Press voters left Nevada out of the top 25 last week, it rubbed Kendall Stephens and some of his teammates the wrong way.

After six straight wins, Stephens felt the Pack had done enough to deserve a spot, especially after home wins over Davidson and Rhode Island, and double-digit road wins at Santa Clara, Pacific and Hawaii.

“Us not being ranked last week hurt, but it didn’t hurt,” Stephens said after the recent win over Illinois State. “We have a lot of transfers on this team, and we want to represent Nevada well. We know we can be a special team. We are not happy where we are.”

With Texas Tech losing a neutral-site game against Seton Hall, it’s possible Nevada could move into the Top 25 with a win at UC Irvine on Saturday, Dec. 2, at 7 (BigWest.TV and 630AM).

The Pack has already proven it has a pretty special group with six double-digit wins in seven games, including 30-point triumphs over Santa Clara (road) and Illinois State (home).

And, the Pack has done it despite a pretty grueling schedule.

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Nevada is one of a handful of teams with three true road wins so far. When Nevada tips at Irvine, it will have played eight games in 32 days, including four on the road. In one stretch, Nevada played three games in six days, and then five games in 11 days.

Bring it on, said Jordan Caroline after the 30-point win over Illinois State.

“We wanted a tough schedule, and we have to make the most of it,” Caroline said. “We didn’t want an easy schedule. Every game is really important. Every game is the Super Bowl to us.”

That’s the life of a mid-major college basketball team. There isn’t much room for error.

Especially on the road when you don’t have a crowd behind you, though Nevada fans traveled well to both Santa Clara and Pacific.

“Every road game is a hard game given the environment,” Caleb Martin said. “You don’t have the crowd behind you picking you up if things aren’t going well.

“You have to stay poised and calm (when things go bad). You have to motivate each other.”

Nevada does a good job at that, because it has players like the Martins, Stephens, Lindsey Drew and Jordan Caroline who have been through the wars either at Nevada or at bigger schools.

Nevada coach Eric Musselman said after the ISU win the group coaches each other on the floor, and that has made his job easier.

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In Irvine, the Pack plays a team predicted to win the Big West. The Anteaters have played a formidable schedule with road games at UCLA, Kansas State, South Dakota State and Arizona State. And, Irvine has road games coming up at Saint Mary’s, Utah State and Montana, all tough venues to play at.

Irvine is led offensively by Evan Leonard and Tommy Rutherford, the only two scorers averaging double figures, and John Edgar Jr. and Eyassu Worku, both of whom are nearly at 10 a game. Irvine averages 76 a game and shoots 38 percent from beynd the arc and 45 percent overall.