The entire state is painted silver & blue, says Joe Santoro

Joe Santoro

Joe Santoro

The entire state of Nevada is now painted silver and blue.

They are shouting “Wolf” in Winnemucca, Fallon, Reno, Carson City, Hawthorne, Gabbs and Austin and “Pack” in West Wendover, Eureka, Tonopah, Ely, Minden, Gerlach and Gardnerville. And they are covering their ears in Mesquite, Las Vegas, Indian Springs, Moapa Valley, Henderson and Boulder City. That’s because the Silver State sounds like one huge, happy, outdoor Lawlor Events Center right now. Think Burning Man in a silver and blue haze. The Nevada Wolf Pack is now the unquestioned authority on college basketball excellence in this state.


It has taken nearly six decades and 84 college basketball games. We’ve seen 11 United States presidents and 10 Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball coaches come and go. We’ve braced ourselves as the state of Nevada’s population has ballooned from roughly 300,000 to three million.

But some things, it turns out, are worth waiting for.

So gather your wife, husband, children, grandchildren, pets, friends and fellow Wolf Pack season ticket holders. Make a trip to family grave sites and let all of your loved ones who suffered before you know their pain and loyalty was worth it. The Wolf Pack men’s basketball team now owns the state and has finally treated its obnoxious, pesky, ungrateful little cousins to the south like it should have from the start.

Why did it take so long? The Wolf Pack had a half century head start on UNLV in basketball but UNLV has controlled this rivalry almost right from the start.

Until now.

The Wolf Pack’s 27 and 36-point victories over UNLV in a span of just 17 days this month is the greatest one-season pounding in the history of this rivalry. That’s right, Pack fans. The Wolf Pack’s plus-63 edge on the Rebels this year has never been accomplished before in this rivalry, since the two schools began bouncing a basketball on the same court on Jan. 22, 1962. The Rebels, who have had 20 NCAA tournament teams, four Final Four teams and one national champion, could only muster up as much as a plus-56 in one season when they beat the Pack by 22 and 34 in the 1975-76 season.

“We talked to our basketball team about what (the rivalry) means to our athletic department, our boosters, our alumni,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said after Saturday’s easier-than-it-looks 94-58 victory in Las Vegas.

This year the rivalry meant Wolf Pack domination. The Pack’s 104 points in a 104-77 win on Feb. 8 at Lawlor is a school record in the rivalry. The 27-point margin of victory that night was a school record that lasted all of 17 days until Saturday afternoon’s 36-point party. The 58 points the Rebels scored on Saturday is their lowest in the rivalry since the Pack beat them 73-57 on Feb. 18, 1995. The Pack’s win on Saturday was just their ninth in Las Vegas over the Rebels. Before this season the Wolf Pack had never beaten UNLV by more than 20 points. They just did it twice in a month.

Enjoy, Wolf Pack fans. These victories were for you.

The Pack’s domination over UNLV, as Musselman said, keeps boosters, athletic departments, university presidents and alumni happy. But the Pack did nothing against UNLV this month except beat a very bad basketball team that can’t wait for the season to end. That’s why Musselman and the Pack players aren’t gloating after whipping the Rebels. They have loftier goals in mind, like winning a Mountain West title and going to the NCAA tournament. The Rebels have now lost nine games in a row and a program-record 19 games overall. This is unquestionably the worst team in Rebel history. Pounding the Rebels twice in one year means nothing for the Pack players and coaches except another couple notches on their belt.

The fans, though, are a different story. Rivalries are not for coaches and players. They are for the fans, who don’t leave after four years or get another job. These two Rebel routs were, more than anything, the Wolf Pack players’ gifts to their fans.

So go ahead and enjoy, Pack fans. And it’s OK to gloat a little. You’ve earned it. Your mom and dad earned it. Your grandparents earned it. They once suffered through 38 losses in one 42-game stretch to the Rebels that lasted nearly three decades. Entire graduating classes spent their whole four or five-year Wolf Pack careers without enjoying a single victory over the Rebels. UNLV has had winning streaks of eight (twice), 10 and 11 games against the Pack. They once came to Lawlor (December 8, 1990) and slapped the Pack around in front of their own fans by 50 (131-81).

So don’t feel sorry for the Rebels now.

It’s important that Pack fans take a moment or two right now and savor what their team did to UNLV this year. It would be easy, after all, to just shrug off the two games off as meaningless victories against an awful team. Yes, beating the Rebels this year is sort of like kicking a puppy as he tries to lick your face. But it’s important to remember that the very same puppy had a father and grandfather that once bit off your ear and nose and then chewed a hole in your shoe and wallet.

So revel in what the Pack did to the Rebels this month. Enjoy it. College basketball seasons, don’t forget, have a way of ending suddenly and harshly. It’s easy to not fully enjoy the special moments as they come along because there is always another bigger and better one potentially around the corner. And then, bam, you turn the corner and someone smacks you in the face and ends your season. It’s over before you know it (like in the first or second round of the NCAA tournament) and by then you’ve already forgotten those two amazing victories over UNLV.

What we saw this month might never happen again.

“I know Marvin (Menzies) will get this thing rolling,” said Musselman of UNLV coach Marvin Menzies. “He’ll get this thing turned around pretty quickly.”

So don’t feel sorry for the Rebels. They’ve never, after all, felt sorry for the Pack or even respected their neighbors to the north. This is a program, don’t forget, that has turned up its nose at their older relatives up north from the moment they sprang up out of the desert.

The Rebels even called the Rebels because, as the school’s basketball media guide states, they “rebelled against its bigger and older brother to the north.” The name “stood for those who opposed northern domination in the state legislature and unwanted dependency upon Reno.” They then stole the Pack’s wolf mascot and dressed up their own wolf in a confederate uniform.

This is a school, don’t also forget, that was only born as the southern regional division of the University of Nevada. It was a satellite campus of the one on north Virginia Street. You never, though, see anyone in an official capacity from the University of Nevada dare to call UNLV by its original Nevada Southern name. But UNLV, as well as the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper (which should know better), still goes out of its way to always label the University of Nevada “UNR.”

That’s how much UNLV respects the University of Nevada.

So go ahead and gloat, Pack fans. It’s more than OK.

Yes, the Rebels basketball team is a reeking, revolting mess this year. But they are the ones who soiled the carpet and continue to step in it. They bungled their coaching search so badly a year ago you’d think Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty were handling it. UNLV offered the job to one coach (Mick Cronin) who turned them down. Another coach (Chris Beard) took the job and then left a week later for another job. Menzies was obviously no better than the Rebels’ third choice. Their fourth choice might have been the next big winner on a Megabucks slot machine.

At least that person could pay off a few Rebel bills. The Rebels, it seems, treat athletic budget funds like they are just a fistful of free buffet coupons for high rollers. UNLV officials just told the Nevada Board of Regents that their athletic department expects to suffer a $5 million budget deficit. Nevada Board of Regents Athletics Committee member Trevor Hayes responded by saying, “there’s some serious problems with UNLV athletics. Basketball is a completely self-inflicted wound.”

Menzies makes roughly $700,000 a year in guaranteed money compared to $400,000 for Musselman. Wolf Pack assistant Dave Rice will make almost as much from UNLV this year as Musselman will make from Nevada. Rice is getting paid $300,000 a year from UNLV as part of his buyout after UNLV fired him last year.

Nothing the Rebels have done, on or off the court, has been positive over the last year or so. This is what you’ve dreamed of, Pack fans. And now that it’s here, enjoy it. The Rebels’ day of reckoning in this rivalry has finally come.

Yes, the Pack has beaten UNLV twice in one year before (see 1961-62, 1965-66, 1994-95 and 2013-14) and could rightfully be called the best college basketball team in the state those seasons. But not like this. Not this convincingly. In those four years the Pack won by an average of 16 (1961-62), 13.5 (1994-95) and 3.5 points (1965-66 and 2013-14). This year the average margin was 31.5. And the Pack hardly had to break a sweat.

It’s clearly time UNLV finally shows some respect for its elders.


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