RENO - Nothing brightens a Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball season better than a visit from the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors.
The Wolf Pack opened its Western Athletic Conference schedule Friday night by whipping the Warriors, 86-69, in front of a New Year's Eve crowd of 4,308 at Lawlor Events Center.
"We've had a rough preseason but we never lost confidence," said junior center Dario Hunt, who tied teammate Olek Czyz for game-high scoring honors against Hawaii with 23 points. "Once we get going we're hard to stop. You saw us kind of clicking out there today."
The Wolf Pack, 4-10 overall and 1-0 in the WAC, is always difficult for the Warriors to stop in Northern Nevada. Hawaii, which played its first game in Northern Nevada in the 1946-47 season, is now 0-14 against the Wolf Pack in Reno. The Pack also has won 12 of its last 14 games overall against the Rainbow Warriors.
"We know what we're capable of," said Malik Story who scored 18 points on six 3-pointers. "It feels good to finally put it together for 40 minutes."
The Wolf Pack tied its season high with 10 3-pointers.
"I was just very wide open," said Czyz, who was 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. "My teammates just found me. That's all it was."
Czyz hit all three of his treys in a span of 3:49 to spark a 16-5 Wolf Pack run late in the first half. The Reno High graduate's 3-pointers gave the Pack a 24-20 lead with 7:48 to play in the half, a 31-24 advantage with 5:05 to go and a 37-25 edge with 3:59 left.
Czyz, playing in just his fifth game, scored 19 points in the first half.
"We just tried to wear them down from the get-go," Czyz said.
"Olek carried us in the first half," Pack coach David Carter said. "We've talked all year about when you get open shots, you have to knock them down. He did that tonight."
The Wolf Pack opened and closed the first half with 3-pointers in taking a commanding 45-29 halftime lead. Deonte Burton hit a 3-pointer just 31 seconds into the game for a 3-0 lead and Story closed the half with a 3-pointer with six seconds to go.
It was the same story in the second half.
Story buried the Rainbow Warriors with four 3-pointers in less than three minutes early in the second half. He drilled two 3-pointers just 32 seconds apart for a 53-32 lead with 18:18 left and hit another pair of treys just 23 seconds apart for a 61-36 lead with 16:31 to play.
"When Malik hit those 3-pointers, that was a spark for us," Carter said. "When a guy makes shots like that against you, that almost breaks your back."
Story, who has made 47 percent of his 3-point attempts this year, was 6-of-11 from 3-point range against the Warriors.
"Malik is free to shoot that shot if he gets it," Carter said. "I've been getting on him for shooting a little too much lately but he hit them tonight."
The game was all but over after Story's sixth and final 3-pointer of the night gave the Pack a 61-36 lead with over 16 minutes to play.
"I just wanted to come out and be aggressive," Story said. "After that first one went in I just wanted to keep shooting."
The Wolf Pack, which has lost five games this year by four points or less, was determined not to allow the Warriors back in the game. Hawaii, now 9-5 overall and 0-2 in the WAC, never got closer than 17 points after Story's first 3-pointer in the second half gave the Wolf Pack a 50-32 lead with 18:50 to play.
"We knew we still had to play hard," Story said. "We knew we still had to be aggressive and keep the pressure on."
"We still had to go out and attack," Carter said. "That's something we have to learn."
The Pack attacked the Warriors at both ends of the court, forcing Hawaii into 15 turnovers. Hawaii also shot just 42.6 percent from the field. Their leading scorer, Zane Johnson (15.2 points a game), finished with just 10 points in 32 minutes. The Pack limited Johnson to just five field goal attempts.
"We knew they had some good shooters," Carter said. "We wanted to make them earn everything they got. We had good pressure on the ball and tried to limit what their guards did. (Hawaii center) Vander Joaquim had 22 points for them inside but that's not what they do best. I think our defense dictated the whole game."
"We've learned from other games when we let the shooters get open," Story said. "We knew they had some good shooters and we didn't want those guys to beat us."
The Wolf Pack, which plays at Fresno State on Monday, is now 4-2 at home this season. Hawaii has dropped 13 consecutive WAC road games, dating back to February 2009.
"We just needed to get a win," Carter said. "That was the important thing. I didn't care how big of win it was. We just needed to get some momentum to take with us to Fresno."