As strange as it might seem, Larry Nance Jr. fell for Laramie, Wyo., and its lack of sights and sounds, at first sight. He immediately knew where he wanted to attend college and play basketball.
“I took one visit, and I committed a week later,” said Nance, who grew up in Akron, Ohio.
“I really like the small-town feel. The people are definitely top notch. I like the slow pace of everything. You can look at it two ways. You can say, there isn’t much to do in Laramie, so it’s boring. Or you can say, there isn’t much to do in Laramie but play basketball and study, and that’s why I’m there.”
Wyoming plays the game at a slow pace, too, and that tends to cause problems for teams such as UNLV.
“We have conflicting styles,” Nance said. “If we try to run and gun with them, we’re going to get blown out.”
Opposite styles attract friction, and the Rebels (15-8, 6-4 Mountain West) are unlikely to impose their will to run when they host the Cowboys (14-8, 5-4) at 7 p.m. today at the Thomas &Mack Center. The teams’ past three meetings, all won by UNLV, averaged a total of 107.7 points.
Larry Shyatt, the coach who recruited Nance to Wyoming, is returning to the bench after missing the past two games with an illness. Shyatt walked into the Thomas &Mack for a Friday practice and hugged Rebels assistant Heath Schroyer, the Cowboys’ head coach from 2007 to 2011.
Wyoming was without Shyatt and starting guard Josh Adams in its 66-61 overtime loss at New Mexico on Wednesday, the same night UNLV came unraveled in a 75-57 loss at Colorado State.
The Rebels’ lack of effort and focus, especially on the defensive end, led to the end of their four-game win streak and left coach Dave Rice searching for answers.
“There’s no doubt there was an effort issue, but a lot of times there’s also an execution issue. I know that might be semantics, but it’s actually true. It’s not always just effort. It also can be a missed assignment that leads to a layup,” Rice said. “We need to play harder. But we didn’t do a good enough job with our defensive execution in terms of following the game plan.
“The blame always has to start with the coach. The players have to respond to what the game plan is, but I’ll always take responsibility for that. It’s the coach’s job to get players ready to play. It was a terrible game, but it’s one loss, and (we can’t) let one loss become two.”
Rice, who benched his starters midway through the second half at Colorado State, said he will stick with the same lineup today.
Adams, the Cowboys’ No. 2 scorer, is returning from a one-game suspension. Nance, a 6-foot-8-inch junior forward who is the team’s leading scorer (16.0) and rebounder (8.9), will see a mix of defensive looks and some double-teams.
Wyoming ranks 10th in the 11-team league in scoring offense (66.7) yet runs its sets with shot clock-draining precision and ranks first in field-goal percentage (.489).
“The most important thing in this game is defensive patience and discipline,” Rice said. “They will utilize an NBA player inside. Nance is just fantastic. I don’t have any doubt that two years from now he’ll be in the NBA.”
Despite being the son of a three-time NBA All-Star, Nance spent most of his time on soccer fields while growing up in Ohio.
Larry Nance spent a 13-year NBA career with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns and won the first-ever dunk contest in 1984. But he never forced his love of basketball on his son.
“I love soccer. But I had to drop soccer because I was too tall,” said Nance Jr., who was 6-4 in eighth grade. “I never really picked up a basketball until middle school.
“I’m way more excited for the World Cup coming up than I am for the NBA playoffs.”
He is proving to be a quick study on the finer points of basketball. Nance, who averaged 4.1 points as a freshman and 10.7 points as a sophomore for the Cowboys, is one of the most improved players in the Mountain West and ranks second in field-goal percentage (.540).
“If you’re good enough, they’ll find you,” Nance said of attracting the eyes of NBA scouts to what he’s doing in Wyoming. “It’s a different role I’m stepping into, and I’m happy to do it for these guys. Come tournament time, there’s not a team in the conference that wants to see us.”
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.