They’re listening in Reno.
After Eric Musselman’s No. 6 Nevada Wolf Pack destroyed Utah State, 72-49, on Wednesday night in the Lawlor Events Center to open Mountain West Conference play and remain undefeated at 14-0, the head coach wasn’t ready to relax.
Considering Utah State, according to every computer metric used in evaluating NCAA basketball teams, is currently ranked as the second best team in the Mountain West and didn’t appear to belong on the same court as the Pack on Wednesday, it would be hard to blame Musselman for letting the guard down for a moment.
Instead, he’s still keenly aware of the motivational power of the perceived slight in a game involving 18-to-23 year old college athletes.
That is why, when asked about his team’s next game — Saturday night in Dreamstyle Arena — the Pit against the UNM Lobos — he was careful not to offer bulletin board material and made it clear his juggernaut of a program is still more than happy to collect it from others.
“You know,” he slowly started with his answer when asked about thoughts on the Lobos. “I mean, I don’t want to say anything. We’ve got to go there. I mean, I read everything, so I can tell you everything Utah State said prior to this game. And I’ll read everything that is written by (the Albuquerque Journal). I’ll talk about this game.”
He’ll probably have to dig deep to get his wish. Since last March, when Lobos head coach Paul Weir made a comment at the MWC Tournament that didn’t sit well with the Wolf Pack program about San Diego State being the best team in the conference at the time (SDSU did beat Nevada in last season’s regular season finale and in the MWC semifinals before the Wolf Pack went on its Sweet 16 run in the NCAA Tournament), the Lobos coach and program have been anything but instigators.
Weir repeatedly has complimented the Pack and Musselman’s program as the model the rest of the league is trying to emulate, even referencing the scheduling philosophy of Nevada as being ideal for programs like UNM.
Asked about the Nevada game after his 7-6 Lobos beat Air Force 65-58 on the road on Wednesday, Weir laughed. And not in any sort of disparaging way.
“Why do you have to bring them up?” he said, wishing he had more than 15 minutes to enjoy opening MWC play with a road win before thinking about what is coming to the Pit on Saturday.
“At the end of the day when we’ve been on the road for five days (UNM played in Hobbs on Sunday and traveled directly to Colorado for Wednesday’s game), I told my wife if we didn’t come away with two wins, I might be coming home in a casket.
“So, I’m coming home (and) we had two good wins. We’ll worry about Nevada when we get home.”
His players, whether instructed to or not, knew the drill, too.
“It’s amazing,” senior guard Anthony Mathis said of Saturday’s matchup. “It’s an amazing opportunity to play the No. 6 team in the country. That’s what you come to New Mexico for — to play the best teams in the country, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Not exactly bulletin board material, but the local newspapers certainly appreciate the readership, anyway.
FOR STARTERS: The Lobos win at Air Force makes eight MWC opening wins in a row for UNM, which is 13-7 in league openers since the league’s inception.
Here are the records in league openers by coach:
• 4-0 Craig Neal
• 3-0 Fran Fraschilla
• 2-0 Paul Weir
• 3-3 Steve Alford
• 1-4 Ritchie McKay
READY FOR THE WHISTLE? Saturday’s game in the Pit could be loud.
Whether that’s from the fans or the referee’s whistles remains to be seen.
But considering the Wolf Pack average an MWC-high 26.3 free throw attempts per game and the Lobos are second in the league at 24.4 per game, you can expect plenty of air time for the guys in stripes on the nationally (ESPNU) televised game.