No. 24 Nevada faces daunting task with visit to Boise State

Heading into last week’s games, Nevada had not won a game while being ranked this season. And after being thrashed at home by in-state rival UNLV, odds were stacked that the Wolf Pack would retain any semblance of a lofty ranking.

More important for the long run, Nevada (21-5, 10-2 Mountain West) did not have the services of leading scorer Caleb Martin (19.4 points per game) against the Rebels, and because of a Lisfranc injury his immediate future was in doubt.

But like the Wolf Pack, Martin bounced back and started against San Diego State and Nevada finally won for the first time this season while being ranked.

Nevada earned enough votes and fell only one spot to No. 24 this week.

But the task that lies ahead is daunting, starting Wednesday night in Boise, Idaho, when the top two teams in the Mountain West collide.

“We have an overly challenging four game stretch with four games on the road, two at home,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said, adding “As difficult six-game stretch since I’ve been here.”

The Broncos (20-5, 10-3) are coming off a 71-65 road loss to Utah State. They committed 16 turnovers and went scoreless for four-plus minutes in the setback.

The Broncos, who have made a living this season winning close games, couldn’t recover from the late drought and fell out of first place in the Mountain West.

“This is a tough pill to swallow, honestly, but one thing we’ve talked about all year is that if we turn the ball over so many times, there’s no way that we’re going to win most of those games,” senior guard Lexus Williams told the Idaho Statesman. “I think a few games we’ve turned it over 15, 18 and still won, but we can’t get comfortable like that.”

The quick turnaround and having to get ready to play the team they’re chasing is a benefit Williams said.

“The ones that hurt, you let them hurt, and that way you have motivation coming into those next games,” Williams said. “That’s the beauty of basketball.”

Despite the loss, there’s no shortage of respect coming out of the Wolf Pack locker room. And respect goes a long way for a mid-major like Nevada.

“It’s really hard for a mid-major to be ranked one week, let alone four weeks,” Musselman said. “We’ve had a difficult schedule and done a good job playing up to this point. It’s a nice way for the school and the program to be recognized.”

The Wolf Pack had not been ranked in the Top 25 since 2007.

With the Broncos and Chandler Hutchison (20.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game) standing in his team’s way of staying ranked, Musselman is wary of what lies ahead Wednesday night.

“Boise State is just so well coached and they know their roles. The like playing with each other; you can see their chemistry,” he said. “They’ve won a lot of close games. We couldn’t respect the Broncos any more than we do. They’ve had a heck of a season.”

The Broncos understand respect will carry only so much weight when tournament selection time comes, and despite being second in the Mountain West, they are not a lock for an NCAA bid.

“We’re still right there in the hunt for everything we’re playing for and looking forward to,” Hutchison told the Idaho Press. “It’s tough, it’s a tough one to swallow, but we have to have a quick switch and focus on (Nevada).”

Nevada won the first meeting Jan. 20 as Martin scored 28 points in 74-68 win in Reno. This time around, Martin is day-to-day, but Musselman expects him to play.