The Nevada Wolf Pack, it seems, collects more admirers each time it takes the court.
The latest member of the Wolf Pack Fan Club is Boise State head coach Leon Rice, whose Broncos lost to the Wolf Pack 93-73 Saturday at Lawlor Events Center.
“When Nevada is playing like this you have to play a perfect game,” Rice said after the game.
The Wolf Pack, the runaway No. 1 team in this week’s Nevada Appeal Mountain West men’s basketball rankings, is 21-1 overall and 8-1 in Mountain West play and seemingly on its way to its third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. Rice’s Broncos led the Pack for all of 104 seconds, all in the first three minutes of the game.
“You choose your poison against them,” Rice said. “If you decide to not let them shoot 3-pointers then they’ll drive and foul out your whole team. They make the right decision no matter how you play them.”
After a bumpy ride for a few weeks in January, during which it lost by 27 at New Mexico and needed a late 3-pointer to win at Boise State by a point, the Wolf Pack has clearly separated itself from the rest of the Mountain West. Nevada has won seven games in a row by an average of 20 points.
“There are some players you throw a curveball and they can’t hit the curveball,” Rice said. “There’s not a pitch they can’t hit. They have such a high basketball I.Q. and the skill to go with it.”
Boise State, now 10-12 overall and 5-4 in the Mountain West, beat Colorado State earlier last week (70-68) to stay in the top half of the rankings at No. 5. Justinian Jessup had a solid two games, going 7-of-12 on threes for 39 points combined against Nevada and Colorado State.
The Mountain West has clearly become a conference of the haves against the have-nots. The top five teams in the rankings this week (No. 1 Nevada, No. 2 Utah State, No. 3 Fresno State, No. 4 San Diego State and No. 5 Boise State) were a combined 9-1 last week while the bottom six went 1-9.
The Mountain West has also become a conference of blowouts. There have been 49 Mountain West games played this season and 40 of them have been decided by 10 points or more. All eight league games last Wednesday and Saturday (9-of-10 for the entire week) were decided by 10 points or more.
Last season more than half (55-of-99) of the Mountain West games were decided by nine points or fewer. The Wolf Pack, for example, was involved in 10 Mountain West games that finished closer than 10 points last year. This year they’ve been involved in just one (72-71 over Boise State) so far.
Utah State (17-5, 7-2) is ranked No. 2 this week but the Aggies lost by 23 points (72-49) the only time it played the Wolf Pack this season (Jan. 2 in Reno). The Aggies, which whipped San Jose State 103-73 and UNLV 82-65 last week, though, are also used to winning by large margins. Utah State has won six games in a row by an average of 15.5 points. The Aggies’ 17 victories this year have come by an average of 21 points. The Wolf Pack, by comparison, has won its 21 games this year by an average of 17.3 points.
Utah State coach Craig Smith gave the Aggies’ victory over UNLV great meaning last week. UNLV, just 11-10, 5-4, has lost three games in a row and dropped a spot to No. 6 this week after losing to Utah State and Nevada (87-70) last week.
“That’s a great win for our program,” Smith said. “You think of UNLV and they have the fifth most wins in the history of Division I. Anytime you look online or think of UNLV you think of really good basketball, great tradition and all that stuff. It’s a marquee win for us.”
Smith wasn’t exactly correct in his assessment of UNLV’s history.
The Rebels, which didn’t play Division I basketball until the 1969-70 season, have won just more than 1,250 games (the Wolf Pack is at 1,348 victories), which doesn’t even put them in the Top 50 in Division I history. The Rebels, though, are indeed fifth in Division I winning percentage, although they’re dropping every year in recent seasons. UNLV, which hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2013 and hasn’t won a NCAA tournament game since 2008, has gone just 78-74 over the last five years.
Utah State also will likely face stiffer competition this week with crucial games at Fresno State (Tuesday) and San Diego State (Saturday).
No. 3 Fresno State (16-5, 7-2) whipped New Mexico 82-70 and Wyoming 75-62 last week and has now won four of its last five games. Nate Grimes, a 6-foot-8 junior, set a Save Mart Center (in Fresno) record with 19 rebounds against New Mexico.
No. 4 San Diego State beat both Air Force (66-51) and San Jose State (67-56) last week to improve to 13-8, 5-3. The Aztecs have won three games in a row and four of their last five.
Colorado State (9-13, 4-5) jumped up two spots to No. 7 after losing to Boise State just 70-68 and trouncing Air Force 85-53. The Rams have won just four games since Dec. 8 but all four (Air Force twice, Fresno State, New Mexico) were by an average of 19.8 points.
The bottom four teams in the rankings (No. 8 Air Force, No. 9 New Mexico, No. 10 Wyoming and No. 11 San Jose State) were a combined 0-6 last week with all six losses coming by an average of 19 points.
The closest game of the six was San Diego State’s 67-56 victory at San Jose State. San Jose State, though, is now 3-18 overall and 0-9 in Mountain West play and has lost 12 games in a row.
Air Force (9-13, 4-6) lost to San Diego State (66-51) and Colorado State (85-53) last week. The Falcons played 14 players against Colorado State. The victory was Colorado State’s biggest since a season-opening 100-66 win over Colorado Christian, a Division II school.
Wyoming (5-16, 1-7) has lost seven of its last eight while New Mexico (9-12, 3-6) has lost six of its last seven.
The Nevada Appeal Mountain West men’s basketball rankings for the week of Feb. 4-10 . . .
1. NEVADA (21-1, 8-1): Caleb Martin has seemingly broken out of his shooting slump. The senior scored 56 points combined in two games last week with nine 3-pointers. Last week: Nevada 87, UNLV 70 (Tuesday), Nevada 93, Boise State 73 (Saturday). This week: Nevada at Colorado State (Wednesday), New Mexico at Nevada (Saturday).
2. UTAH STATE (17-5, 7-2): Sam Merrill scored 49 points in two games last week. Last week: Utah State 103, San Jose State 73 (Wednesday), Utah State 82, UNLV 65 (Saturday). This week: Utah State at Fresno State (Tuesday), Utah State at San Diego State (Saturday).
3. FRESNO STATE (16-5, 7-2): New Williams, a 6-1 junior, had three points against New Mexico last Saturday on 0-for-7 shooting after scoring 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting on Wednesday against Wyoming. Last week: Fresno State 75, Wyoming 62 (Wednesday), Fresno State 82, New Mexico 70 (Saturday). This week: Utah State at Fresno State (Tuesday), Fresno State at UNLV (Saturday).
4. SAN DIEGO STATE (13-8, 5-3): Jalen McDaniels had his sixth double-double in a row with 11 points and 11 rebounds against Air Force on Wednesday. His streak ended, though, with 22 points and nine rebounds on Saturday against San Jose State. Last week: San Diego State 66, Air Force 51 (Wednesday), San Diego State 67, San Jose State 56 (Saturday). This week: San Diego State at New Mexico (Tuesday), Utah State at San Diego State (Saturday).
5. BOISE STATE (10-12, 5-4): The Broncos shot the ball well last week in two games against Nevada and Colorado State, making 52-of-101 field goals (51 percent) and 16-of-37 threes (43 percent). Last week: Boise State 70, Colorado State 68 (Tuesday), Nevada 93, Boise State 73 (Saturday). This week: UNLV at Boise State (Wednesday), San Jose State at Boise State (Saturday).
6. UNLV (11-10, 5-4): Noah Robotham, a 6-1 senior, scored just five points on 2-of-15 shooting (1-of-9 on threes) in two games last week. Last week: Nevada 87, UNLV 70 (Tuesday), Utah State 82, UNLV 65 (Saturday). This week: UNLV at Boise State (Wednesday), Fresno State at UNLV (Saturday).
7. COLORADO STATE (9-13, 4-5): Nico Carvacho had 32 points and 30 rebounds in two games last week. Last week: Boise State 70, Colorado State 68 (Tuesday), Colorado State 85, Air Force 53 (Saturday). This week: Nevada at Colorado State (Wednesday), Colorado State at Wyoming (Saturday).
8. AIR FORCE (9-13, 4-6): Lavelle Scottie has just two points in 18 minutes against Colorado State on Saturday. It was his lowest scoring output since he went scoreless against Army on Dec. 17, 2017, a span of 42 games. Last week: San Diego State 66, Air Force 51 (Wednesday), Colorado State 85, Air Force 53 (Saturday). This week: Wyoming at Air force (Wednesday).
9. NEW MEXICO (9-12, 3-6): Carlton Bragg, a 6-10 junior, had a season-high 15 rebounds against Fresno State last week. Last week: Fresno State 82, New Mexico 70 (Saturday). This week: San Diego State at New Mexico (Tuesday), New Mexico at Nevada (Saturday).
10. WYOMING (5-16, 1-7): Jordan Naughton, a 6-10 senior, had 10 points in just 12 minutes against Fresno State. Naughton was a perfect 4-of-4 on field goals and 2-of-2 on free throws. Last week: Fresno State 75, Wyoming 62 (Wednesday). This week: Wyoming at Air Force (Wednesday), Colorado State at Wyoming (Saturday).
11. SAN JOSE STATE (3-18, 0-9): San Jose State has now lost four games this season by 30 points or more, the most of any Mountain West team. Last week: Utah State 103, San Jose State 73 (Wednesday), San Diego State 67, San Jose State 56 (Saturday). This week: San Jose State at Boise State (Wednesday).