RENO -- For three years, Nevada has never been this high in the Western Athletic Conference standings and it only has Jerry Petty to blame.
Petty, who sat out most of the first half with two fouls, basically shut down Hawai'i's best scorer over the final 15 minutes of the game and scored all 13 of his points in the same span as the Wolf Pack beat the Rainbow Warriors 73-65 Saturday night in front of 6,846 fans at Lawlor Events Center.
"We've been in a lot of close games and to put a team away, we're starting to mature as a team," Petty said. "It feels great coming back. We came out and played defense as a team. I like the team chemistry. I heard Tulsa lost, so we're in second place."
Nevada (10-8 overall, 5-3 WAC) is one game ahead of Rice and Tulsa in the conference standings. The Golden Hurricane, the preseason pick to win the WAC, lost in overtime, 86-84, to Southern Methodist University on Saturday. The Rainbow Warriors fell to to 4-4 with Saturday's loss to the Wolf Pack.
Now in second place, which they have never been in this late in the season, Kirk Snyder isn't satisfied.
"I really don't feel like we deserve to be in second place," said Snyder, who scored a team-high 16 points. "We should be No. 1. It's great that we won. At times it was a little shaky but the guys came out with a 'W' and that's awesome. It was a big win. Not because we beat Hawai'i but just that we competed for 40 minutes."
Hawai'i (11-5) led 52-47 with 8:07 left in the game. A timeout was called and a rejuvenated Nevada team came out of it.
"I told them we've been up and down a lot this year," said coach Trent Johnson. "Be the aggressor and play with confidence. I thought they did a really good job. They didn't frustrate and panic like we have in close games. We just dug in."
After not being able to stop the Rainbow Warriors offensively in giving up the lead, the Wolf Pack then stopped them on seven straight possessions during a 14-0 run that put them up 61-52.
Petty, who limited Carl English to only five points in the final 15 minutes of the game, hit back-to-back 3-pointers at the end of run as Nevada led 64-55. English, who had scored 22 points until Petty was put on him, finished with a game-high 27 points.
"They did a good job all around (defensively)," said Hawai'i coach Riley Wallace. "They turned it up a notch and got aggressive on the boards. We didn't answer the call. They turned it up and said 'you're not gonna' beat us at our house.' And we didn't answer. We just had no energy level after the five-minute mark. We just got to get a bit tougher."
The Wolf Pack made 9-of-10 free throws in the final two minutes but the Rainbow Warriors got within four points, 69-65, after two Nevada turnovers resulted in layups for English and Michael Kuebler, who scored 12 points. They wouldn't get any closer. Nkeruwem Akpan had 10 points.
"I think when they got the lead, they were playing harder than we were," said guard Todd Okeson, who scored 14 points and was 2-of-5 from behind the 3-point line. "They were executing and we were just going down there and throwing up shots up."
The Rainbow Warriors, who trailed 29-28 at halftime, lost for the third consecutive time. Nevada, which hosts first-place Fresno State next Saturday, has now won five of its past six games, with the only loss coming in overtime at SMU in Dallas.