RENO - Olek Czyz has a word of warning for his Nevada Wolf Pack teammates.
"Don't think ahead," said Czyz, referring to the Wolf Pack's opening game in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament on Thursday night ( 6 p.m.) against the San Jose State Spartans at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. "Just focus in on this game. Don't overlook them."
The Wolf Pack, 25-5 overall, won the WAC regular season title at 13-1 and earned the right to play the eighth-seeded Spartans (9-21, 1-13) in the first round of the three-day tournament. The Wolf Pack beat the Spartans twice in the regular season (81-57 on Jan. 12 in Reno, 76-70 on Feb. 11 in San Jose) and has won 10 games in a row against the Spartans.
Czyz, though, says all of that doesn't matter come Thursday night.
"They are a dangerous team," Czyz said. "They get great guard play and when they hit their shots they can be very dangerous."
The Wolf Pack, now in its 12th and final season in the WAC, has lost its opening game in the WAC Tournament just twice before (2001, 2005). Even last year's team, which went into the tournament with a 12-18 record, won its opener (90-80 over Fresno State).
The Wolf Pack, though, is not thinking about losing in the tournament. The winner of the WAC Tournament, after all, earns the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
"I haven't won one yet,' said Hunt of the WAC Tournament. "It's something I really want to do."
The Wolf Pack has won just two WAC Tournaments, in 2004 in Fresno and 2006 in Reno. The Pack is 15-9 in WAC Tournament games since joining the conference in 2000-01.
"It's do or die," said Dario Hunt. "We know every game is going to be a fight. We have to bring it every night and be prepared for a fight."
San Jose State gave the Pack a fight in February in San Jose. Czyz had 27 points, Malik Story had 23 and Hunt had 11 points and 12 rebounds as the Pack escaped with a six-point win. San Jose State was led that evening by 6-foot-2 shooting guard James Kinney (26 points) and 5-11 point guard Keith Shamburger (17 points).
"In that game we had just come back from Hawaii (two nights before) and our defensive energy wasn't there," Pack coach David Carter said.
Kinney is averaging 16.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists. Shamburger, who competed in the Los Angeles area for high school state titles against Pack point guard Deonte Burton, is averaging 13.3 points and 5.2 assists. The Spartans also feature 6-8 Wil Carter, who averages 13.0 points and 8.7 rebounds and has led San Jose State in rebounding in 23 of 30 games this year.
"We know we just have to leave it all out there on the court every game," said Burton, who was named the WAC's Player of the Year on Monday. "We have to give it our all, and give it our best."
The Wolf Pack, given its 25-5 record and WAC regular season title, will be playing in some sort of postseason tournament after the WAC tournament ends on Saturday night (9 p.m., ESPN2). But, as far as the Pack is concerned, the NCAA Tournament is the only tournament that matters tight now.
"Definitely," Czyz said. "We're not looking at anything else but winning the WAC Tournament and going to the NCAA Tournament. This is what we've prepared for. That's definitely our goal."
Carter said the Wolf Pack is confident heading down to Las Vegas.
"It was important for us to play well in our last two games (wins over New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech last week at home)," Carter said. "And we did that."
A victory on Thursday will send the Wolf Pack into the semifinals on Friday at 8:30 p.m. against the winner of Thursday's Utah State-Louisiana Tech game. The Pack also swept both its games this year against both Utah State and Louisiana Tech.
"It's tough to beat a team three times in one year," Carter said. "Each time you beat a team that team gets a little more motivated to beat you and you have a tendency to let down because you already beat them twice."