No. 20 Nevada hosts struggling Colorado State

Nevada has a chance to clinch back-to-back Mountain West regular-season championships on Sunday at the Lawlor Events Center in Reno, Nev.

Standing in the way of the No. 20 Wolf Pack is a fractured Colorado State team being weighed down by controversy and a coaching carousel.

Since returning to the Associated Press Top 25 three weeks ago, the Wolf Pack (24-5, 13-2 Mountain West) have quietly been building an impressive resume and Eric Musselman’s squad has established itself as one of those mid-major teams no one will want to play come NCAA Tournament time.

While they aren’t dealing with controversy like the Rams, Musselman and the Wolf Pack certainly have some worries as the regular season comes to a close and tournament time approaches.

The Wolf Pack have only seven scholarship players available — and two of those players are dealing with injuries that could derail Nevada at any time.

Leading scorer Caleb Martin barely practices because of a foot sprain and Kendall Stephens, the transfer from Purdue who scored a career-high 30 points in a win against San Jose State, sprained a thumb in the victory.

“Kendall’s banged up and will play with a splint for the rest of the year,” Musselman told the Reno Gazette Journal. “Potentially season-ending surgery when the year is up. We just have a lot of nicks and bruises.”

Stephens has a chance to set school and conference records for 3-pointers made in a single season. How the thumb injury affects his shooting remains to be seen. But the senior, who will be honored on Sunday along with Hallice Cook who scored 15 points against the Spartans in their last home game, is downplaying the injury.

“It’s getting better day by day, but I don’t think it’s going to be an issue for the games coming up,” Stephens said. “I’m just going to continue getting treatment. This part of the season, most everybody in the Mountain West is banged up.”

The Rams (11-18, 4-12) are banged up but more mentally than physically, and the season can’t end soon enough. Head coach Larry Eustachy is on administrative leave amid an investigation that alleges abuse of players and staff. It’s doubtful he returns; multiple reports out of Colorado say the school is working on a buyout to end Eustachy’s stormy tenure.

Assistant Steve Barnes was placed on a separate administrative leave.

Playing under their second interim coach of the season, Jase Herl, the Rams suffered their worst loss in nine years on Wednesday with an 87-54 defeat to Boise State.

“We didn’t show any heart, any competitiveness, and it’s just baffling,” guard J.D. Paige told the Coloradoan. “We just didn’t bring it tonight, and there’s no excuse for that. As a whole team, we didn’t bring enough energy.”

The 30-year-old Herl, in just his second game as interim coach, said he was most disappointed the team’s energy and attitude didn’t match what he saw in practices.

“It’s all between the ears,” Herl said. “Each guy has to sit down and talk to himself. We have to find ways to motivate. If you can’t play for the name on the front of the jersey, at least play for the name on the back.”

That’s not the kind of mental preparation a coach wants to be talking about when preparing to play a team like Nevada, which has one of the top offensive teams in the nation. The Wolf Pack have four players scoring more than 13 points per game and average 83 points per game, 25th best in the nation.

In the teams’ first meeting, Nevada’s Caleb Martin poured in 26 and Lindsey Drew added 16 and hauled down eight rebounds in Nevada’s 76-67 win.

This time around, Drew will be missing (season-ending surgery on Friday) and Caleb Martin is dealing with that pesky foot sprain.

In Drew’s place, Cody Martin and Cooke have stepped up to play the point. In two games, Martin has tallied 32 points, 19 rebounds and 11 assists. Cook has recorded 21 points and 12 assists in the past two games.