No. 23 Nevada aims to rebound vs. San Diego State

Call it a curse, call it bad luck. Nevada might not want to be ranked in the Top 25 anymore.

After being upset on Wednesday at home by rival UNLV, the Wolf Pack are now 0-4 while being ranked this season. Nevada (20-5, 9-2 Mountain West) has lost just once (to San Francisco 66-64) when not in the Top 25.

“This is a tough one,” Jordan Caroline told the Reno Gazette Journal after the loss snapped a 16-game home win streak. “It’s another time being ranked and losing right after we get the ranking, at home. … especially because it’s a rivalry game.”

While No. 23 Nevada most certainly will fall out of the Top 25, the Wolf Pack does have a home game Saturday against San Diego State. They’re still ranked, so they have a chance to end one skid and start another streak against the Aztecs (13-9, 5-6).

But it won’t be easy even though the Aztecs are just 1-5 on the road in conference play.

If the losses weren’t bad enough, the team lost its best player — while being ranked, of course — and against UNLV, the Wolf Pack found out just how hard life is going to be without leading scorer Caleb Martin (19.8 points, 5.3 rebounds per game).

Martin, who sat on the bench with a foot in a boot during the UNLV loss, has been diagnosed with a Lisfranc sprain. He aggravated the foot injury in the final seconds of a loss to Colorado State — when the Wolf Pack were in the Top 25.

Asked how long Martin might be out, a surly Eric Musselman told the Gazette Journal, “I have no idea. Not good. I don’t know the medical term. … I’m not talking about it anymore. He’s out indefinitely.”

The Wolf Pack still have plenty of options on offense. Caroline averages 16.7, Martin’s brother, Cody, scores 13.6 and Kendall Stephens is at 12.8 points per game. Musselman’s problem is a matter of numbers in players. He now has only seven scholarship players available.

He sees a bigger problem.

“We missed Caleb,” Musselman said. “He makes everybody’s job easier. We can’t shoot. We can’t defend. We can’t rebound. We missed a guy who plays 35 minutes a night and nobody stepped up in his place.

“If they don’t defend, we’re not going to win another game the rest of the year. It’s pretty simple.”

The game plan for San Diego State is pretty simple: stay out of foul trouble and don’t turn the ball over.

In Tuesday’s 18-point loss to Fresno State, San Diego State turned the ball over 16 times leading to 22 Fresno points.

“I thought they had a better game plan against us this time,” Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher told the San Diego Union Tribune as he took responsibility for not having his team prepared. “The first game we were able to drive and kick it out. This time they didn’t really help inside. We threw the ball to Malik in the low post, and they let him play one on one.”

Malik Pope (12.8 points, 6.7 rebounds per game) and Matt Mitchell (10.5 points) were saddled with foul trouble, sealing the Aztecs’ fate.

With Pope playing only 23 minutes, Dutcher tried to exhort his team during halftime, trailing only by 11.

“I tried encouraging the team, telling them we’re going to get a run,” Dutcher said. “We needed to get two or three stops in a row, but we didn’t get those.”

Pope is the kind of player who might give Musselman fits, especially with Martin being available. In a 70-56 Aztecs win last season, Pope had 12 points and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes.