Mulling over an unexpected 2-5 record on Dec. 14, the Nevada Wolf Pack said all the right things following each of those five losses but it wasn't carrying over to the court. That's changed now as Nevada takes its three game winning streak into today's Western Athletic Conference opener against Rice in Houston.
Game time is scheduled for 5:05 p.m.
"When you win three games in a row, no matter who you play, it should be a momentum thing going into Rice," said sophomore forward Kirk Snyder, who has averaged 18.3 ppg the last three games. "Hopefully we can get a win."
Wins at Autry Court, though, have been hard to come by. Rice (7-2) has a perfect 6-0 home record this season, including double digit wins over Tulane, Houston and Colorado.
"Rice is playing the best basketball of anybody in the conference," said coach Trent Johnson of the Owls, who have won five straight. "We haven't played very well on the road. They're solid, real physical. They dominated Houston at home. They dominated Tulane at home."
Four Rice players are averaging in double figures, led by Omar Seli-Mance (15.8 ppg). The sophomore trio of Michael Harris, Jason McKrieth and Brock Gillespie are the Owls' next three leading scorers. Rice was picked to finish seventh in the WAC while Nevada was predicted to finish in fourth. But if this season has shown anything it's that expectations in October don't equal wins once the season begins.
"I thought they had three of the more talented freshmen in the conference (last year)," Johnson said of Rice, which is coming off a 86-69 win over Louisiana College on Monday. "I feel just like I felt after the two exhibition games. Everything that's done is out the window."
One of the reasons for the Wolf Pack's reemergence has been the play of junior forward Sean Paul. The Elko High grad has started the last three games and scored a season-high 10 points in an 81-70 win over San Diego last Saturday. The starting lineup of Paul, Kevinn Pinkey, Kirk Snyder, Garry Hill-Thomas and Todd Okeson has also been the one constant during the three-game streak, a sign that Johnson has finally found a lineup.
"I think this is the best I've played this year, considering the competition is the best I've had," Paul said after the win over the Toreros, a game in which he helped contain San Diego's mammoth center, Jason Keep. "I think all the big men did very well. I think I'm getting closer to getting my consistency (back)."
Before wins start becoming consistent for Nevada, it has to prove it can win on the road. The Wolf Pack (5-5) are 1-4 on the road this season, with those four losses by a combined 23 points. After Nevada's 67-62 loss to Santa Clara on Dec. 14, the team almost seemed to be falling apart. Today's game, then Saturday's game at Tulsa will be good indicators to see if the Wolf Pack have pulled themselves together.
"It's nice to get a couple of wins at home," said Okeson, who scored a career-high 19 points against San Diego. "I think going into the WAC we got a little bit of (our) confidence back."