It's been said that the hardest thing in sports is to beat the same team three times in one season. For the University of Nevada's sake, it better hope so.
The fourth-seeded Wolf Pack opens the Western Athletic Tournament today at 12:30 p.m. against fifth-seeded Southern Methodist at the Reynolds Center in Tulsa, Okla. The Mustangs (16-12) have already beaten Nevada twice this season, including a narrow 77-74 win in Dallas just four games ago. They also beat the Wolf Pack 71-57 on Jan. 26 in Reno.
The backcourt of Damon Hancock and Quinton Ross, both all-WAC selections, have torched the Wolf Pack this season. They scored a combined 51 points in that three-point win on Feb. 21. The two guards average over 38 ppg. Hancock, who missed the first meeting between the two teams, ranks second in the conference in scoring (21.8), behind only Fresno State's Melvin Ely.
"Ross and Hancock are the best backcourt in my mind (in the conference)," said Nevada coach Trent Johnson. "Hopefully for us, third time will be a charm. Our season's not over."
Before their last loss to SMU, the Wolf Pack were 15-9, coming off three-straight wins and had decent hopes of being invited to the NIT. Now after a 76-72 loss to last-place San Jose State last Saturday, Nevada fell to 16-12 overall and probably needs to win the WAC Tournament to make the postseason.
Otherwise, a loss this week and the Wolf Pack's season ends, as does Corey Jackson's career, the only senior on the squad.
"It's not the end of the world," Johnson said of the Wolf Pack's loss to the Spartans. "If we lose Thursday (today), it's depressing."
Jackson, the WAC's leading rebounder (11.2 rpg), has been the most consistent player for Nevada. The 6-foot-7 power forward, who's ranked sixth in the nation in rebounding, averages close to 10.0 ppg. His leadership will be key to elevate his team's play this week, which was non-existent against San Jose State.
"We're not very good when we have two players playing with consistency," Johnson said. "We're not good enough to have two, three guys show up and two not."
Spartan coach Steve Barnes, though, thinks that his team's upset of the Wolf Pack might be what this young Nevada teams needed to become last season's Hawai'i, which put together an unlikely run in the WAC Tournament to earn the conference's automatic bid by winning it all.
"I know Trent wouldn't agree, but I think this might help them more than hurt them," Barnes said. "But with all of their young players, they still could a be a year away."
In other first round games, top-seeded Hawai'i plays ninth-seeded San Jose State, which beat Rice 58-57 in the first of two first-round games on Tuesday. Second-seeded Tulsa will play seventh-seeded Boise State, which beat UTEP 73-72 in overtime in the other first-round game. Third-seeded Louisiana Tech plays sixth-seeded Fresno State, which was the preseason pick to win the conference.
WAC Tournament Schedule
Reynolds Center, Tulsa, Okla.
G3--No. 1 Hawai'i vs. No. 9 San Jose State, 10 a.m.
G4--No. 4 SMU vs. No. 5 Nevada, 11:30 a.m.
G5--No. 3 Louisiana Tech vs. No. 6 Fresno State, 4 p.m.
G6--No. 2 Tulsa vs. No. 7 Boise State, 6:30 p.m.
G7--Hawai'i/San Jose State winner vs. SMU/Nevada winner, 4 p.m.
G8--Tulsa/Boise State winner vs. Louisiana Tech/Fresno State winner, 6:30 p.m.
Saturday's Championship game
G7 winner vs. G8 winner, 6:30 p.m.