RENO - How did the Nevada Wolf Pack open its most crucial stretch of games of the season on Thursday night?
"We didn't show up," junior forward Olek Czyz said after a shocking 67-59 loss to the Idaho Vandals in front of a stunned Lawlor Events Center crowd of 4,578. "Our effort wasn't there."
The Wolf Pack, now 11-16 overall and 7-6 in the Western Athletic Conference, dropped to fifth place with the loss behind Utah State (25-3, 12-1), New Mexico State (14-14, 8-5), Idaho (16-11, 8-6) and Boise State (16-11, 8-6).
"This makes it tough," said Pack coach David Carter, whose Wolf Pack will wrap up its regular season against Boise State on Saturday at home and on the road at Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State next week. "It's all going to come down to tie-breakers."
With Utah State having already clinched first place, the prize the Pack covets most right now is second place. The top two seeds in the WAC tournament March 9-12 in Las Vegas receive a bye into the semifinals.
Idaho, though, now owns the tiebreaker against the Wolf Pack, having swept the season series from Nevada.
"We just came out flat," said point guard Deonte Burton, whose 3-pointer cut Idaho's lead to just 61-59 with 34 seconds to play. "No energy."
The Wolf Pack came into the game with seven victories in its last nine games and a 9-3 record for the season at home. The Pack also had won 13 of its last 15 games against Idaho, though one of the losses (72-67) was at Idaho on Jan. 12.
"We just didn't have any energy and that's surprising for us, especially at home," sophomore Malik Story said.
The Pack, which had played just one game in the last 10 days, seemed to open the game with plenty of energy, draining their first two shots for a quick 5-0 lead less than a minute into the game. But then, almost as quickly, somebody flipped off the energy switch.
The Pack proceeded to miss its next eight shots over the next three minutes. Half of the misses were at the rim on two blown lay-ups and two butchered dunks. They also missed a pair of 3-pointers and two mid-range jumpers in the pivotal cold spell.
And while the Pack was missing shots, Idaho heated up. The Vandals, thanks to guard Jeff Ledbetter, went on a 14-2 run to take a 14-7 lead seven minutes into the game. Ledbetter, who finished with a game-high 25 points, scored 12 of the Vandals' first 14 points.
"Those first seven minutes dictated the rest of the game," Carter said. "That changed the tempo of the game. That was huge. We missed lay-ups and dunks and were stuck on five points for a long time."
Idaho led by as much as eight (19-11) in the first half but a pair of 3-pointers by Story in the final 1:11 of the first half did pull the Pack into a 29-29 halftime tie.
"We played a poor first half," Carter said. "They (Idaho) controlled the tempo. Once we started missing some shots, I thought the guys started putting their heads down. They started getting a little tight and when you do that the energy goes away."
A jumper by Czyz, though, cut Idaho's lead to just 43-41 with 11:15 to go. The Pack, though, went cold again, missing its next five of its next six shots as Idaho built a 54-45 lead with 6:22 to go.
The Vandals then seemingly put the game away as Geiger drained a 3-pointer and Brandon Wiley had a lay-up off a steal by teammate Kyle Barone for a 59-48 lead with 2:42 to go.
The Pack, though, rediscovered its energy. And its shooting touch.
Czyz nailed a 3-pointer to cut Idaho's lead to 59-51 with 2:15 to go. Burton had a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 59-54 with 1:29 to go. Dario Hunt hit a short jumper to make it 59-56 with 1:01 to play. And Burton cut it to just 61-59 with another 3-pointer with 34 seconds left.
But that was as close as the Pack would get. Ledbetter and Geiger each made a couple free throws in the final 29 seconds to ice the game. Story also had a 3-point attempt seemingly go in and out of the basket with 23 seconds to go.
"We just didn't execute this game," said Czyz, who finished with 11 points.
The Pack now must rebound in 48 hours to play Boise State on Saturday at Lawlor Events Center.
"We have to bounce back," Carter said. "We don't have a week off. We only have a day."