RENO - The "wacky WAC" is usually a phrase you hear during football season because of the conference's penchant for playing high-scoring games void of defense.
Be that as it may, there was nothing wackier than the ending of Saturday night's Hawai'i-Nevada basketball game.
The officiating crew of Bill Gracey, Kelly Self and Brian Sorenson deliberated not once, but twice, before taking away a possible game-winning basket by Hawai'i's Ahmet Gueye with 5.8 seconds left, and 13th-ranked Nevada escaped with a 69-68 win before 9,791 at Lawlor Events Center.
Nevada improved to 21-2 overall and 9-1 in the WAC. The Pack lead idle New Mexico State by a half game. The Aggie play Utah State on Monday.
"That was great finish and one of the wackier ones I guess if that's the term you use," said Nevada coach Mark Fox, who was demonstrative and agitated after the initial call. "It took courage to get it right. I had to fight for my team, my kids deserved that from me."
Gueye had cut the lead to 69-68 with 49.3 left, and then Matt Lojeski stepped in front of a Kyle Shiloh pass in the right corner, giving the Warriors a chance to go ahead. Ramon Sessions tried for a steal, but was whistled for a foul with 20 seconds left. The Warriors moved the ball around, and Gueye worked himself open underneath. Nick Fazekas threw him down, and Gueye threw the ball up while he was on the ground.
That's when all the fun started.
Gracey counted the basket, and Fox went ballistic. The Nevada coach, who actually took off his jacket and almost threw it on the ground, had to be restrained by David Carter, the associate coach. Fox kept pointing to the officlal who was on the other side of the play, obviously seeing that the other official's hand had gone up, too. The officials conferred, and let the basket stand.
Nevada took a 30-second timeout. Gracey came over to the scorer's table, and then he conferred with his partners again. They wiped out the basket, much to Hawai'i's chagrin.
Hawai'i inbounded the ball, and Denis Ikovlev blocked Matt Gibson's field goal attempt. Gueye got the loose ball, but missed a 5-foot putback attempt. P.J. Owsley tried to follow it in, but his shot came after the buzzer. The officials checked the replay monitor briefly, and waved the basket off. The arena erupted with a huge roar of approval.
When Wallace was informed of the reversal, he uttered an expletive. He admitted that Owsley's shot was late.
The veteran Hawai'i coach said there were three options on the Warriors' final possession.
"Lojeski was the first option," Wallace said. "We had two other guys who could shoot it coming off (screens).
"I'm proud of the team, so proud. They came to play. This is one of the most hostile situations to come into. They are a great team and have great players. They have dominated the league for three years."
While Wallace was happy with his team, Fox was not, and there were plenty of reasons not to be.
Hawai'i enjoyed a 34-33 edge on the boards, and had eight more field goals than Nevada, 30-22. The Warriors limited All-American Nick Fazekas to just two second-half shots, and only six second-half points. The difference turned out to be the Pack's 20-for-21 effort at the foul line. Hawai'i shot just five free throws.
"Gueye didn't have anything to do with it," Fazekas said, commenting on his lack of touches in the second half. "I just didn't get my shots. You can't get them all."
"Credit Hawai'i's defense," Fox said. "Gueye is a good player, really good. Give him credit, you can't give him the advantages we gave to him. We didn't execute very well either. It (foul line) was about the only thing we did that really worked."
Fazekas and Gueye both scored 21 and pulled down 10 rebounds, in effect neutralizing each other.
Fazekas scored 15 of his 21 in the first half, sparking the Pack to a 40-33 advantage. He keyed a 12-3 run midway through the first half, and then scored four points in a half-ending 9-1 run.
"Early on, he (Gueye) was a little soft," Wallace said. "As the game went on, he really bought in that he could guard him, and by the second half he was doing great.
"Marcelus Kemp took over the game and was really in a zone when it was important. I thought that was the difference in the game. He was the difference maker."
Kemp scored Nevada's first 13 points in the second half, and the Pack led 54-45 with 13:40 left. Kemp went just 2-for-4 and scored just seven first-half points.
"The coach was just calling my plays," said Kemp, who finished with 23 points. "I had good looks."
Hawai'i tied the game at 59-all on a bucket by Gibson with 7:37 left, but Nevada scored six of the next eight points for a 65-61 lead with 3:43 left.
Fazekas, who was 9-for-9 at the line, knocked in two free throws, and then Kemp got into the passing lane, stole the ball and rattled home a dunk. Lojeski followed in a Gueye miss, and then Fazekas put in two more free throws for the four-point bulge.
Bobby Nash hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 65-64 with 2:24 left, and then Ramon Sessions (10 points) scored on a driving lay-up and two free throws for a 69-66 lead, which set the stage for a wild finish.
And even the Nevada players knew they probably should have lost.
"It feels good," Fazekas said. "They had their chance to beat us, but we got them in the end."
And, that's all that counts.