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No. 6 Nevada looks to rebound from rare loss

Nevada's expected coronation as Mountain West Conference regular-season champions and a golfer's inaccurate tee shot have one thing in common.

They both found trouble in the sand.

A visit to San Diego State Wednesday night might have given the Wolf Pack a great opportunity to see some of the world's greatest beaches, but it also brought them closer to their biggest pursuer.

The Aztecs' 65-57 upset win in Viejas Arena handed No. 6 Nevada its second conference loss, reducing its lead over Utah State to a half-game. While the Wolf Pack (24-2, 11-2) have a game in hand on the Aggies, they also have to visit them on March 2 in what could be a showdown for the Mountain West title.

Before then, Nevada tries to get back on track Saturday night when it hosts another team coming off a disappointing loss, Fresno State, in Reno.

Lawlor Events Center has been a safe place of sorts for the Wolf Pack this year. They are 12-0 on their home floor with an average margin of victory of 23.1 points. Yet coach Eric Musselman's mind sounded like it was on the upcoming trip to Utah State when he talked about the setback to San Diego State, almost as though he heard CBS Sports Network announcers mention that Nevada has not posted a Quad 1 win yet this season.

"We have to step up on a big stage and play," he said. "We've played in front of two really great crowds at New Mexico and here and we didn't play like we're capable of."

Nevada averages 81.5 points per game, but ran into some old-school defense from an Aztecs team that has won seven of eight. The Wolf Pack made less than 34 percent from the field and MWC Player of the Year candidate Jordan Caroline shot just 3 of 12 from the field, finishing with eight points.

If Nevada's first meeting with the Bulldogs is any indication, bet on Caroline bouncing back sooner rather than later. He posted a 19-point, 16-rebound double-double Jan. 12 in Fresno as the Wolf Pack owned the glass in a 74-64 win.

Nevada outboarded the Bulldogs 40-32, turning 17 offensive rebounds into a whopping 27 second-chance points. That insured victory on a day when it made just 38.5 percent from the field and 10 of 37 on 3-pointers.

While that was a missed opportunity for Fresno State, its 64-61 home loss to Air Force Wednesday night was probably even more damaging. Had they taken care of business, the Bulldogs (19-7, 10-4) would have been in position to tie the Wolf Pack and Utah State in the loss column atop the league.

Instead, they need this one just to move within a game of first place, and they have to deal with what figures to be an angry opponent.

"Nevada is big and strong and they'll switch, so they'll make you play one on one," first-year Fresno State coach Justin Hutson said. "We're going to need some one-on-one plays when they switch every screen one through five."

--Field Level Media

Updated February 22, 2019

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