RENO - With the Wolf Pack looking for its first win in nearly a month, tiny College of Notre Dame seemed to be the perfect opponent for the Nevada mens basketball team on Saturday night.
In the end, Nevada did outlast the Argonauts, 67-55, to record their first win since their season opener against Washington State on Nov. 19, snapping a six-game losing streak.
But the NAIA Div. II Argonauts from Belmont, Calif., almost pulled off a stunner over the Wolf Pack, which would have ranked near Chaminade's win over Virginia, when the Cavaliers were ranked No. 1 and had Ralph Sampson at center. With just over eight minutes remaining in the game, Notre Dame led by one point and had the sparse crowd at Lawlor Events Center (announced at 5,353, but probably under 3,000 actual in attendance) wondering if they were going to see the biggest upset among NCAA Division I basketball teams so far this season.
It took a strong final few minutes of the game for Nevada to finally put Notre Dame away in a contest in which the Wolf Pack looked more like a team straight out of the California Pacific League (Notre Dame's league, which includes schools like Dominican and Holy Names colleges) rather than the Big West. The loss was the first of the year for Notre Dame (8-1), but of course the game was also the Argos' first against a Div. I school.
Nevada coach Trent Johnson was far from satisfied with the Pack's play, but also gave credit to Notre Dame, which had no full-athletic scholarship players on its roster.
"Let's not shortchange College of Notre Dame; they've won eight games," Johnson said. "They competed, scrapped, and gave us some problems.
"I said this from day one - for anybody on our schedule, there's a fine line between winning and losing. But the (Nevada) kids have got to feel good about winning, and in a way, I do to; it feels better than losing."
Calvin Criddle's offensive rebounding and scoring down the stretch were the main reasons the Wolf Pack was able to pull away from Notre Dame, which had no one capable of matching up with the Pack's 6-foot-5 forward. Criddle went on a scoring binge after Notre Dame took its 39-38 lead with 8:23 remaining, hitting four shots within a three-minute span to give Nevada a 45-39 lead.
After getting some breathing room, the Wolf Pack players began to relax and started hitting their shots. Joao Santos hit two jumpers and Adrian McCullough made 6-of-8 free throws and a 3-pointer in the game's last three minutes to finally seal the win for the Pack.
"The bottom line is it feels good for the team (to win)," said Criddle, who had seven rebounds to go along with 10 points. "It's good motivation for us to go back to practice and get some more wins."
When asked why the team couldn't perform better against an NAIA school, Criddle said the team needs to overcome its mental lapses.
"Sometimes we lose our focus, we don't execute the way we should," Criddle said. "That's something we need to work on and come together as a team."
McCullough led the Pack in scoring with 16 points. Freshman Terrance Green had 12.
Damon Lee had 12 points for the upset-minded Argos, who had fallen behind 27-19 by halftime.
Notre Dame shot only 29 percent in the first half (9-31) but stayed in the game because Nevada was an even worse 23 percent (5-21). Nevada finished the game shooting 35 percent (19-53).
Nevada's next game is Wednesday at Butler University in Indianapolis, Ind.