RENO --David Carter doesn't hesitate when asked what the biggest challenge his Nevada Wolf Pack will face Wednesday night (6 p.m.) against the Wyoming Cowboys in Laramie, Wyo.
"Leonard Washington is the key to their team," the Pack head coach said.
Carter witnessed up close what Washington could do back on Jan. 12 in a 59-48 Wolf Pack loss to Wyoming at Lawlor Events Center. The 6-foot-7, 230-pound Washington had 16 points and 13 rebounds, as well as six assists, four blocks and three steals.
"He dominated inside," Carter said. "We can't let him just set up in the paint."
Washington, who had 18 point and 15 rebounds in a 68-61 loss at Boise State last Saturday, is averaging 13.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and two blocks a game for the 16-7 Cowboys. Wyoming, though, is just 2-7 in Mountain West play, a game behind the 12-11, 3-6 Wolf Pack.
"This is a physical league," Carter said. "It's not Big Ten physical, but the referees will let you play. The refs won't bail you out in this league. You have to be able to handle the physical play."
Physical play is Washington's specialty. The Wolf Pack is going to need another solid effort from 6-9, 225-pound junior Kevin Panzer. Panzer struggled against Wyoming back in January, going scoreless (0-for-7 from the field) with seven rebounds in 22 minutes.
"We need him to rebound and continue to play defense," Carter said. "He had a nice game last time and hopefully he'll build on that."
Panzer played his best game in a Wolf Pack uniform during the Pack's 74-69 win over Air Force on Saturday at Lawlor Events Center. He had 10 points and 14 rebounds in 29 minutes and made 5-of-6 shots from the field.
"He has a tendency to want to drift out and take the three," Carter said. "But in that game he stayed in the paint and was in position to score inside. I told him, 'Look, you just had your most successful game of your career and you didn't take one 3-pointer.' In the past he's always thought that he had to hit a shot from outside to open up his game. But now he knows he doesn't need that."
The victory over Air Force was huge for the Pack's confidence, Carter said. The Pack, which has just three home games left this year, went into the game on a three-game losing streak and having lost seven of its last nine games.
"We've had confidence and we've been playing better lately," Carter said. "But it was very important to win that game. Hopefully it will lead to more wins."
The Wolf Pack has struggled with consistency all season long. They opened the year with three victories in their first four games, then lost thereof four, followed by a five-game winning streak. They will go to Wyoming with seven losses in their last 10 games.
Point guard Deonte Burton said the Pack knows the time to play well has arrived. There are just seven games remaining in the regular season and the Pack needs a victory at Wyoming if it wants to avoid finishing eighth or ninth in the Mountain West.
"As a team we realize this is our last go-around," Burton said. "This is the second time around through the league. We have to get these wins. There is a definite sense of urgency."