The New Mexico Lobos have been waiting for the Nevada Wolf Pack for two weeks.
“We’ve only lost one game in this building,” coach Richard Pitino said, referring to the Lobos’ 14-1 record at home in The Pit.
The two teams, which met in Reno on Jan. 23 with Nevada winning 97-94 in double-overtime, will stage a rematch Tuesday night (Feb. 7) in Albuquerque. The Wolf Pack, 18-6 overall and 8-3 in the Mountain West, are No. 1 in this week’s Nevada Appeal Mountain West rankings, while New Mexico (19-4, 6-4) is No. 5.
“We will learn from it,” said Pitino of the memorable marathon loss in Reno.
The Wolf Pack beat San Diego State (75-66) and Air Force (72-52) last week at home to vault into the top spot in the rankings. Jarod Lucas had 26 points against San Diego State and 19 against Air Force.The Wolf Pack attracted its two largest crowds of the season at home last week with 19,543 combined.
New Mexico is averaging 11,152 fans at The Pit this year.
“We’re 19-4 and I’m proud of that,” Pitino said. “But I’m more proud of our fans.”
Wolf Pack coach Steve Alford knows The Pit as well as anyone, having coached the Lobos from 2007-13 and winning 155-of-207 games.
Alford has never lost to the Lobos as the Wolf Pack coach, going 7-0 since coming to Nevada in 2019-20. But just one of the games was at The Pit, an 88-74 Pack win on Feb. 18, 2020. The two Pack-Lobo games in 2020-21 were supposed to be in Albuquerque but were moved to Lubbock, Texas, because of the pandemic. Last year the two teams met just once in the regular season in Reno and the conference tournament in Las Vegas.
“Our fans are very passionate,” Pitino said. “They love their Lobos, they love the state of New Mexico and I get it. But I don’t tell them who to root for. I just ask them to show up.”
Pitino said his team won’t be any more motivated because Alford will be on the opposing bench.
“John Wooden could be coaching and my team wouldn’t care,” Pitino said. “He (Alford) hasn’t been here for 10 years and that’s an eternity to these guys (the players).”
New Mexico lost at Utah State, 84-73, in its only game last week.
No. 2 San Diego State (18-5, 9-2) lost at Nevada on Tuesday and rebounded to whip No. 3 Boise State, 72-52, at home on Friday. Nathan Mensah had 17 for the Aztecs against Boise State.
The Wolf Pack also had a huge influence on the Aztecs last week. Senior Aguek Arop called a players-only meeting before practice on Thursday, with the team’s effort against Nevada as the chief talking point.
“I’m glad he didn’t ask me for any of my salary,” smiled Aztecs’ coach Brian Dutcher. “He probably did a better job than I do at some things. But he’s a leader and when he wants to talk to the team he has an open (microphone) to do so.”
“We all felt we had something more to give,” the Aztecs’ Darrion Trammell said.
“We just couldn’t have that happen again,” said Arop of the loss to Nevada.
Mensah added, “We were truthful with ourselves about what we can all do to bring the team back up to the standard that San Diego State is known for. The Nevada game was a wakeup call.”
Boise State (18-6, 8-3) beat Air Force (59-52) in its other game last week, led by Max Rice’s 22 points. The victory, though, was in front of just 843 fans at Air Force. The loss at San Diego State was seen by 12,414.
No. 4 Utah State (19-5, 8-3) beat both New Mexico (84-73) and Colorado State (88-79) last week. Sean Bairstow had 20 points against New Mexico while Steven Ashworth (26 points) and Taylor Funk (21) led the offense against Colorado State. Ashworth and Funk combined to go 13-of-26 on threes.
No. 6 San Jose State (14-9, 5-5) beat Wyoming, 84-64, at home last week behind Omari Moore’s 29 points and five threes.
No. 7 UNLV started its week off with an 83-71 win over Colorado State on the road but fell 82-79 to Fresno State three nights later at home. Elijah Harkless had 44 points combined in the two games.
“Clearly, that was not the result we wanted,” UNLV coach Kevin Kruger said.
“We’ve got to get back to work,” UNLV guard Luis Rodriguez said. “Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us.”
No. 8 Air Force (12-12, 3-8) and No. 9 Colorado State (10-14, 2-9) both lost twice last week. The two rivals will meet at Air Force on Feb. 7.
No. 10 Wyoming (7-15, 2-8) beat Fresno State at home (85-62) behind Hunter Thompson’s 18 points and 14 points, eight assists and six rebounds from Hunter Maldonado. The Cowboys, though, then lost at San Jose State four nights later, 84-64, despite Maldonado’s 34 points (13-of-19 from the floor).
No. 11 Fresno State (8-14, 4-7) lost at Wyoming (85-62) and won at UNLV (82-79) last week. Jemarl Baker had 23 points and Isaiah Hill had 22 at UNLV. The two each had a pair of free throws in the final 18 seconds to secure the victory.
“Coach told us the whole week to stay aggressive,” said Baker, whose Bulldogs will return to the state of Nevada this Friday against the Wolf Pack. “That’s what we tried to do, just go out and be tough and gritty.”
“You have to match UNLV’s toughness if you want to win,” Hill said. “In the first half we got out-rebounded, but coach (Justin Hutson) gave us a good speech at halftime and fired us up. We went out there and matched their energy plus some more.”
The Nevada Appeal’s Mountain West men’s basketball rankings for the week of Feb. 6:
1. NEVADA (18-6, 8-3): Last week: Nevada 75, San Diego State 66 (Jan. 31); Nevada 72, Air Force 52 Feb. 3). This week: Nevada at New Mexico (Feb. 7); Fresno State at Nevada (Feb. 10).
2. SAN DIEGO STATE (18-5, 9-2): Last week: Nevada 75, San Diego State 66 (Jan. 31); San Diego State 72, Boise State 52 (Feb. 3). This week: San Diego State at Utah State (Feb. 8); UNLV at San Diego State (Feb. 11).
3. BOISE STATE (18-6, 8-3): Last week: Boise State 59, Air Force 52 (Jan. 31); San Diego State 72, Boise State 52 (Feb. 3). This week: Wyoming at Boise State (Feb. 11).
4. UTAH STATE (19-5, 8-3): Last week: Utah State 84, New Mexico 73 (Feb. 1); Utah State 88, Colorado State 79 (Feb. 4). This week: San Diego State at Utah State (Feb. 8); Utah State at San Jose State (Feb. 11).
5. NEW MEXICO (19-4, 6-4): Last week: Utah State 84, New Mexico 73 (Feb. 1). This week: Nevada at New Mexico (Feb. 7); New Mexico at Air Force (Feb. 10).
6. SAN JOSE STATE (14-9, 5-5): Last week: San Jose State 84, Wyoming 64 (Feb. 4). This week: San Jose State at Fresno State (Feb. 7); Utah State at San Jose State (Feb. 11).
7. UNLV (15-8, 4-7): Last week: UNLV 83, Colorado State 71 (Jan. 31); Fresno State 82, UNLV 79 (Feb. 3). This week: UNLV at Wyoming (Feb. 8); UNLV at San Diego State (Feb. 11).
8. AIR FORCE (12-12, 3-8): Last week: Boise State 59, Air Force 52 (Jan. 31); Nevada 72, Air Force 52 (Feb. 3). This week: Colorado State at Air Force (Feb. 7); New Mexico at Air Force (Feb. 10).
9. COLORADO STATE (10-14, 2-9): Last week: UNLV 83, Colorado State 71 (Jan. 31); Utah State 88, Colorado State 79 (Feb. 4). This week: Colorado State at Air Force (Feb. 7).
10. WYOMING (7-15, 2-8): Last week: Wyoming 85, Fresno State 62 (Jan. 31); San Jose State 84, Wyoming 64 (Feb. 4). This week: UNLV at Wyoming (Feb. 8); Wyoming at Boise State (Feb. 11).
11. FRESNO STATE (8-14, 4-7): Last week: Wyoming 85, Fresno State 62 (Jan. 31); Fresno State 82, UNLV 79 (Feb. 3). This week: San Jose State at Fresno State (Feb. 7); Fresno State at Nevada (Feb. 10).
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