Joe Santoro: Wolf Pack now dominant program in Nevada

Lindsey Drew (11) takes a jump shot in a sea of red against UNLV last season at Lawlor Events Center.

Lindsey Drew (11) takes a jump shot in a sea of red against UNLV last season at Lawlor Events Center. Photo by Steve Ranson.

 It took roughly five decades but the Nevada Wolf Pack has finally established itself as the dominant men’s college basketball program in the state of Nevada.
The Wolf Pack is currently enjoying its longest continued stretch of success against the Rebels. The Pack, which hosts UNLV this Sunday and Tuesday at Lawlor Events Center, has won six games in a row, eight of its last nine and 12 of its last 14 against its little brother down south.
The string of Pack dominance started the night of Jan. 8, 2014 when the Pack snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Rebels with a 74-71 victory in Las Vegas. It’s likely not a coincidence that the Rebels haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2013, the year before the Pack’s dominance in the rivalry began.
“I’m not going to lie,” said Wolf Pack guard Deonte Burton after scoring 29 points in the victory in January 2014. “This is pretty big for me. We finally got a win.”
Nobody knew it at the time but the balance of college basketball power in the state of Nevada clearly shifted to Northern Nevada with that landmark January 2014 Pack victory. It also might not be a coincidence that Wolf Pack coach David Carter hugged then-Gov. Brian Sandoval, now the Nevada president, after the game.
Before January 2014 the Rebels, for the most part, owned the Wolf Pack for more than 50 years. UNLV, which was nothing more than a bunch of dried tumbleweeds blowing across the Southern Nevada desert just a few years before, won four of the first seven from the long-established Wolf Pack once the rivalry started in 1962.
The Rebels then won 38-of-42 against the Wolf Pack from 1966 through 1993. That ridiculous stretch of destruction is a big reason why UNLV still dominates the Silver State rivalry, 61-30.
The Wolf Pack, though, now owns the Rebels. The Wolf Pack’s 12-4 record against the Rebels since 2014 is clearly its longest stretch of dominance in the rivalry.
But the rivalry actually started to change in the 1992-93 season when the Wolf Pack jumped to the Big West Conference, leaving the comfort and safety of the friendly confines of the Big Sky Conference. And, yes, one other change occurred down south before that 1992-93 season that also drastically changed the course of the rivalry.
Coach Jerry Tarkanian, who won 23-of-25 games against the Wolf Pack from 1973-92, left the Rebels after the 1991-92 season.
That 61-30 Rebel edge in the rivalry is really just a Tark edge. The Wolf Pack and Tark-less Rebels have split 42 games against each other since the start of the 1992-93 season.
So forget that 31-60 Wolf Pack record against UNLV. That is ancient history, like the Roman and British Empires. This is a true rivalry now and has been for three decades. The last seven years of Pack dominance has made that clear.
A look back at the Wolf Pack’s 12 victories against UNLV since the night of Jan. 8, 2014:
Jan. 8, 2014 (Las Vegas)
The Wolf Pack had not beaten UNLV since Nov. 26, 2005. “It would be big for the program, for the fans and it would definitely be big for us confidence-wise,” Wolf Pack guard Deonte Burton said before the game.
UNLV led 34-23 just three minutes before halftime. An 11-2 Pack run in the final three minutes of the first half changed the game and maybe the rivalry. The Pack led 72-58 with 3:30 to play and held off a furious Rebel charge as UNLV’s Christian Wood scored nine points in the last 20 seconds.
A Burton dunk with five minutes to play gave the victory an exclamation mark. “I was going off a little adrenaline,” Burton smiled.
That Pack adrenaline against UNLV has now lasted seven years and counting.
Head coaches: David Carter (Pack), Dave Rice (UNLV). Attendance: 13,741.
Notable Wolf Pack: Burton (29 points), Michael Perez (18 points, 7 rebounds), A.J. West (11 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks).
Notable Rebels: Bryce Dejean-Jones (15 points), Roscoe Smith (13 points, 15 rebounds), Christian Wood (11 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks in 14 minutes).
March 8, 2014 (Reno)
Burton, a senior, was about to play his final game at Lawlor Events Center. The Wolf Pack, though, had not beaten UNLV at Lawlor since Dec. 4, 2004.
UNLV led 41-35 at halftime and was dominating the Pack, 54-37, with 16 minutes to play.
The last 16 minutes, though, belonged to Burton and the Pack. Burton scored 16 points in those final 16 minutes to give the Pack its first two-game season sweep over UNLV since 1994-95.
Michael Perez’s 3-pointer tied the game at 70-70 with just under four minutes to play. Burton had a layup for a 72-70 lead with three minutes left, Cole Huff hit a jumper for a 74-72 lead with 33 seconds left and Marqueze Coleman’s two free throws with seven seconds to play nailed down the victory.
Head coaches: David Carter (Pack), Dave Rice (UNLV). Attendance: 10,317.
Notable Wolf Pack: Burton (24 points, 8 rebounds, 11 assists), Cole Huff (22 points, 7 rebounds, 4 threes).
Notable Rebels: Jelan Kendrick (16 points, 4 threes), Khem Birch (15 points, 22 rebounds, 4 blocks), Deville Smith (16 points, 4 threes).
Jan. 7, 2015 (Las Vegas)
The Wolf Pack, losers of eight in a row in November and December, took a modest three-game winning streak to Thomas & Mack. The Rebels, though, led 55-49 with just under five minutes to play.
The Wolf Pack got a pair of layups by A.J. West and a 3-pointer by Tyron Criswell to take a 56-55 lead with three minutes left. Another three by Eric Cooper put the Pack up 61-60 with a minute left.
A jumper by Marqueze Coleman with five seconds to play gave the Pack one of its most dramatic victories in the rivalry.
It would turn out to be coach David Carter’s last significant victory for the Pack. He was fired after a lifeless 67-46 loss to the Rebels in the Mountain West tournament two months later.
Head coaches: David Carter (Pack), Dave Rice (UNLV). Attendance: 13,530.
Notable Wolf Pack: A.J. West (15 points, 15 rebounds, six blocks), Eric Cooper (12 points, four threes).
Notable Rebels: Rashad Vaughn (20 points), Christian Wood (17 points, 13 rebounds, three blocks).
Jan. 23, 2016 (Reno)
Neither team played all that well. The Wolf Pack missed all nine of its 3-point shots. UNLV, which fired coach Dave Rice two weeks earlier and was now led by interim coach Todd Simon, was 3-of-19 on threes and just 14-of-28 on free throws. The Rebels also turned the ball over 17 times.
This was the night, though, that the Eric Musselman coaching era at Nevada began to take shape.
The Rebels led 49-40 with 10:30 to play but the next five minutes belonged to the Wolf Pack. A dunk by D.J. Fenner gave the Pack a 54-53 lead with 5:30 to go.
The Pack won the game with defense (24 points off Rebel turnovers) and free throws (27-of-37 from the line).
Head coaches: Eric Musselman (Pack), Todd Simon (UNLV). Attendance: 11,341.
Notable Wolf Pack: Cam Oliver (12 points, 9 rebounds), Tyron Criswell (11 points), Marqueze Coleman (21 points, 15-of-20 free throws).
Notable Rebels: Ben Carter (9 points), Patrick McCaw (8 points).
Feb. 8, 2017 (Reno)
Arguably the worst UNLV team in school history came to Lawlor on this night. The Rebels, coached by former New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies, would go 11-21 in 2016-17.
D.J. Fenner turned in one of the most efficient performances in Wolf Pack history on this night. Fenner scored 37 points, draining 5-of-6 threes. He was a near-perfect 12-of-15 from the floor and 8-of-9 from the line and also had six rebounds. No Pack player has ever played better against UNLV.
The Wolf Pack’s 104 points are the most it has ever scored against UNLV.
Head coaches: Eric Musselman (Pack), Marvin Menzies (UNLV). Attendance: 11,841.
Notable Wolf Pack: Cam Oliver (25 points, 9 rebounds), D.J. Fenner (37 points, 5 threes), Jordan Caroline (11 points, 11 rebounds), Marcus Marshall (15 points).
Notable Rebels: Jovan Mooring (20 points, 8 assists, 3 steals), Kris Clyburn (14 points).
Feb. 25, 2017 (Las Vegas)
This one was even easier than 17 days earlier at Lawlor Events Center.
The Wolf Pack whipped the Rebels by 36 points for its biggest win in the rivalry. UNLV led 12-11 just four minutes into the game but then disappeared. A 15-2 Pack run put the game away over the next four minutes.
The Rebels, once again, gave little effort. UNLV went to the line for just seven free throws (making four) and missed 19-of-25 threes.
The Wolf Pack got zero points from point guard Lindsey Drew in his 32 minutes and still never had to break a sweat.
Head coaches: Eric Musselman (Pack), Marvin Menzies (UNLV). Attendance: 14,808.
Notable Wolf Pack: Jordan Caroline (31 points, 10 rebounds), Marcus Marshall (28 points, eight threes).
Notable Rebels: Christian Jones (15 points), Jovan Mooring (12 points), Kris Clyburn (12 points).
Feb. 28, 2018 (Las Vegas)
The Wolf Pack, motivated by revenge because of a shocking 86-78 loss to the Rebels in Reno three weeks earlier, gave a clinic on this night.
Cody Martin had 24 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and three steals while twin brother Caleb, who didn’t play in the loss to UNLV three weeks before, had 21 points. The Pack, ranked No. 21 in the nation, led 54-28 at halftime.
UNLV missed 19 of its 23 3-point shots.
Head coaches: Eric Musselman (Pack), Marvin Menzies (UNLV). Attendance: 13,998.
Notable Wolf Pack: Jordan Caroline (22 points), Cody Martin (24 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals), Caleb Martin (21 points, 5 threes), Kendall Stephens (14 points, four threes).
Notable Rebels: Brandon McCoy (19 points, 17 rebounds), Shakur Juiston (14 points, 14 rebounds).
March 8, 2018 (Las Vegas)
The Wolf Pack and Rebels met in the Mountain West tournament for the first time since David Carter’s farewell three years before.
The Pack trailed 39-31 at halftime and seemed out of sync the entire game, considering they whipped the Rebels by 26 points a week earlier.
The Pack, down 43-31 with 19 minutes left, went on a 20-6 run to take a 51-49 lead with 14 minutes to go. A 3-point play by Cody Martin gave the Pack a 77-70 lead with 90 seconds to play.
Head coaches: Eric Musselman (Pack), Marvin Menzies (UNLV). Attendance: 6,753.
Notable Wolf Pack: Jordan Caroline (21 points, 10 rebounds), Kendall Stephens (15 points, 5 threes), Josh Hall (16 points off bench), Caleb Martin (12 points).
Notable Rebels: Jovan Mooring (13 points), Brandon McCoy (12 points), Shakur Juiston (14 points).
Jan. 29, 2019 (Las Vegas)
The Pack led 48-26 at halftime and UNLV never got closer than 14 the entire second half.
The Rebels missed all 12 of their 3-point shots in the first half but recovered in the second 20 minutes (the Pack looked bored on defense) to make 7-of-14.
The officials called 47 fouls (26 on UNLV) as the Pack was 28-of-32 from the line.
Head coaches: Eric Musselman (Pack), Marvin Menzies (UNLV). Attendance: 15,786.
Notable Wolf Pack: Jordan Caroline (16 points, 10 rebounds), Caleb Martin (26 points, 4 threes).
Notable Rebels: Kris Clyburn (23 points, 8 rebounds, 3 threes), Amauri Hardy (17 points).
Feb. 27, 2019 (Reno)
This game was almost an exact replica of the meeting a month earlier.
The Pack led 46-28 at halftime and never trailed the entire game.
The Wolf Pack wore its blue and yellow Battle Born uniforms and had three players (Caleb and Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline) each score 20-plus points.
“When our Big Three play really good, we are a phenomenal basketball team,” said Pack coach Eric Musselman. This would prove to be the final Rebel game in the Musselman, Jordan Caroline and Cody and Caleb Martin era. Musselman ended up 7-2 against the Rebels.
“This game is a big deal for the state and the community,” Cody Martin said. “It was important we come out and compete like we did.”
Head coaches: Eric Musselman (Pack), Marvin Menzies (UNLV). Attendance: 11,289.
Notable Wolf Pack: Jordan Caroline (20 points, 12 rebounds), Caleb Martin (24 points, 6 threes, 4 steals), Cody Martin (23 points, 4 threes, 8 assists).
Notable Rebels: Christian Jones (15 points), Jovan Mooring (12 points), Kris Clyburn (12 points).
Jan. 22, 2020 (Reno)
This was the debut of the Steve Alford (Nevada) versus T.J. Otzelberger (UNLV) coaching rivalry.
In true Alford style, the Pack won the game at the free throw line, draining 25-of-29 overall and 21-of-23 in the second half.
Jalen Harris had 28 points, making 9-of-11 free throws. Jazz Johnson had 19 points and was 10-of-11 from the line.
The Pack led by at least eight points over the final 11 minutes. Threes by Johnson and Nisre Zouzoua gave the Pack a 61-49 lead with 10:52 to go.
Head coaches: Steve Alford (Pack), T.J. Otzelberger (UNLV). Attendance: 10,325.
Notable Wolf Pack: Jalen Harris (28 points), Jazz Johnson (19 points).
Notable Rebels: Bryce Hamilton (26 points off the bench), Amauri Hardy (23 points).
Feb. 12, 2020 (Las Vegas)
Jalen Harris scored 29 points despite missing all eight of his 3-pointers and never left the floor, playing all 45 minutes. Harris also had 14 rebounds and fell a point shy of his fifth consecutive 30-point game.
Jazz Johnson had a key 3-pointer in overtime, giving the Pack a 79-76 lead with two minutes left. Harris scored the Pack’s last three points on a free throw and a jumper in the paint.
UNLV, as it often does against the Pack in recent years, struggled from the line and with its 3-point shot. The Rebels were 12-of-25 on free throws and 9-of-39 on threes.
Head coaches: Steve Alford (Pack), T.J. Otzelberger (UNLV). Attendance: 11,607.
Notable Wolf Pack: Jalen Harris (29 points, 5 assists), Jazz Johnson (19 points, 4 threes), Lindsey Drew (6 points, 13 rebounds).
Notable Rebels: Bryce Hamilton (23 points), 1-of-7 on threes), Amauri Hardy (14 points), Jonah Antonio (14 points).


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