No. 20 Nevada returns home to face San Jose State

Winning on the road in hostile environments, overcoming potential catastrophic injuries and mental toughness are ingredients of a team well-prepared to make some serious noise come NCAA Tournament time.

After winning at Boise State and Utah State this past week after losing point guard Lindsey Drew to an Achilles injury, Eric Musselman’s No. 20 Nevada Wolf Pack hunkered down and now are on the cusp of a regular-season Mountain West title and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.

The Wolf Pack have two games at Lawlor Events Center in Reno this week and have a good chance to clinch that coveted top seed in the Mountain West as well as at least a share of the title.

First up is San Jose State (3-22, 0-14) on Wednesday and then a final home game on Sunday against Colorado State (11-15, 4-11).

Despite San Jose State being winless in the conference, Musselman believes the Wolf Pack has the focus to take the Spartans seriously. The Wolf Pack proved their mental toughness Saturday in Logan, Utah.

Coming off an emotional win at Boise, “(the Utah State) game was really, really important for us,” Musselman told the Reno Gazette Journal. “To be able to come back after that game on the road, knowing it’s a getaway game and we’re leaving to go back home, I was really concerned.

“It’s hard to grab college-aged student-athletes’ attention sometimes. I was probably most proud of how we approached the game from a professional mentality.”

The way Caleb and Cody Martin performed should alleviate some of Musselman’s worries. Cody Martin poured in a career-high 30 points and Caleb Martin, Nevada’s leading scorer, added 23. Together they compiled 53 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and two steals.

What had to please Musselman even more was how Cody Martin ran the offense in place of the injured Drew, who is scheduled to have surgery on Wednesday.

“We have so many guys who can score that I never felt the need to look for my shot,” Cody Martin told the Gazette Journal. “The biggest thing was my teammates having confidence in me and they allowed me to get it and go. Nobody was looking at me like I was crazy, so it allowed me to play freely and take shots with confidence.”

The Spartans travel to Reno with nothing to lose and perhaps a bit more confidence than other teams that have lost 14 straight. After all, the Spartans led the Wolf Pack at halftime earlier this season before faltering in the last five minutes in a 71-54 win in San Jose.

Jean Prioleau’s first year at the helm of the Spartans hasn’t gone as planned might be an understatement, but the former Colorado assistant is building toward the future.

“I’m optimistic about what we are trying to do,” he said moments after 89-75 loss to Wyoming on Sunday. “I’m unhappy, the players are, too. We’re trying to focus on gaining a competitive advantage and we’ll keep working at it.”

The Cowboys dominated the paint and Prioleau is convinced the Spartans “would have been right in it” if they hadn’t given up 11 layups in the game. Turnovers against Wyoming also doomed San Jose State.

“We’re going to work on some things; we have the best team in the league coming up,” he said.

Prioleau’s work has not gone unnoticed.

“Coach Prioleau is doing a good job at San Jose,” Wyoming coach Allen Edwards said after the game. “Coach has some pieces in place to really get that thing going. It’s not a program that you can overlook.”

One of those pieces is junior forward Ryan Welage, who leads the Spartans in scoring at 18.5 points per game with a season-high of 37. But Nevada held him to nine points in the team’s first meeting.