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Nashville

No. 6 Nevada expects fast-paced battle with Little Rock

Sports Xchange
16 Nov 2018, 14:45 GMT+10

Slowly, inch by inch. Win by win, Nevada is climbing in rarefied air.

The No. 6 Wolf Pack are taking it slow and easy. The only place they're in a hurry is on the court, and that's where they will be come Friday night when they play host to Little Rock at Lawlor Events Center in first game of Continental Tire Las Vegas Holiday Invitational.

The 2-0 Trojans are coached by former NBA veteran Darrell Walker. Little Rock, like Nevada, prefers to push the ball in an up-tempo pace. The Trojans are averaging 92 points in their two wins.

"They're a high-power team, score the ball really well," said Wolf Pack forward Jordan Caroline. "They shoot the 3 really well and love to get out in transition.

"It's gonna be a fun one for sure. But a challenging one because they have so many talented pieces that can hurt you," Caroline added.

In their first two games, the Trojans have relied on sophomore Kris Bankston and redshirt junior Rayjon Tucker. Bankston recorded 14 points, eight rebounds and three blocks on Tuesday in a win over Tennessee State -- Little Rock's 1,000th win.

Tucker, who sat out last season after transferring from Florida Gulf Coast, is averaging 14.5 points and shooting 63.2 percent from the floor while grabbing 5.5 rebounds in 36.0 minutes per game.

The most dangerous Trojan just might be Markquis Nowell, the smallest man on the court at 5-feet, 8-inches. The freshman guard leads the team in scoring at 19.0 points per game and is averaging five assists and four rebounds per game.

"Markquis may be 5-8, but he can flat out distribute the ball as well as score," Walker said before Nowell had even stepped on the hardwood at Little Rock. "Again, he was recruited by a lot of big-name universities, and he is really something special to see at 5-8. He can shoot it from deep, he can handle the ball, he's quick and he's a floor general."

So Caroline isn't just showing false respect, as the Trojans have solid talent and could give the Wolf Pack a run.

But Nevada is loaded, starting with Caroline, who was named the Mountain West Player of the Week after averaging 20.5 points and 10 rebounds in the Pack's two wins to begin the season.

When the offense isn't running through Caroline, it's Caleb Martin that the Wolf Pack turn to. Martin is Nevada's first preseason All-America selection and he is averaging 21.5 points per contest after scoring 21 points in the BYU game and 22 against Pacific.

Twin brother Cody Martin has recorded 21 assists and turned the ball over just three times in the first two games.

After two games, Caroline said the biggest surprise has been Nevada's defense, which has been holding opponents to a low field-goal percentage. BYU shot 37.7 percent from the field while Pacific was a little better at 41.7.

"We're starting to gel. Our chemistry is coming together," he said. "There's a lot of places we can improve but there's been a lot of positives. We can still get better defensively, get more steals, more blocked shots."

The Wolf Pack has demonstrated the ability to adapt to however the opponent is playing whether it be a slow-down game or fast tempo.

Nevada has excelled at getting to the line and shooting the 3 in the past year and against Pacific, which slowed the game, coach Eric Mussleman said long-range shooting was the key to victory.

In two games, the Wolf Pack have made 23 of 59 3-point shots. What's promising for Musselman is that against Pacific, Nevada made 15 of 31 long-range attempts.

I'm really proud of Trey Thurman. He's worked so hard on his 3-point shooting. And Cody (Martin) has played phenomenal. ... He's not forcing shots."

What might be a bit concerning is Caleb Martin's slow starts -- he's been held scoreless in the first half of both games.

"Maybe Friday I just won't let Caleb play in the first half and just let him play in the second half," Musselman deadpanned, adding, "I think he's trying to get other guys involved."

This is the first time the two teams will have met.

Nevada will be the highest-ranked opponent Little Rock has faced since falling to No. 2 Kentucky 73-51 on Jan. 3, 2012.

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