The Nevada Wolf Pack, in case there were any doubts, is for real.
“We needed to prove our self on the road,” Nevada coach Steve Alford said after an important last-second 77-76 victory at New Mexico on Feb. 7. “Anytime you can win in this building (New Mexico’s Pit), you’ve proven yourself.”
The Wolf Pack, the No. 1 team in this week’s Nevada Appeal Mountain West basketball rankings for the second week in a row, also beat Fresno State, 77-66, at home on Friday to improve to 20-6 overall and 10-3 in conference. This is Alford’s first 20-win season at Nevada since he took over the program in 2019-20.
“We just kept telling our team, ‘We need to prove ourselves on the road,’” Alford said. “And we didn’t just win on the road. We won in The Pit, one of the greatest venues in college basketball.”
Guard Kenan Blackshear hit the winning shot to beat the Lobos as the clock ticked down to zeroes. “When we were discussing what we wanted to run on that last play, Kenan basically told us ‘No,’’’ Alford smiled, adding he originally wanted the shot to go to Jarod Lucas, who had 28 points at the time. “Jared was open but Kenan wanted this one. You have to give him credit. What he’s done (down the stretch in games this year) is astonishing. He’s a go-to guy for sure.”
The loss to Nevada – the Lobos also lost to the Wolf Pack in Reno earlier this season – hit the Lobos’ hard. The fifth-ranked Lobos, now 14-2 at home, went to Air Force three nights later and lost, 89-77, to fall to 19-6, 6-6 after starting the season 14-0.
“It was a heartbreaker,” New Mexico coach Richard Pitino said of the loss to Nevada. “Was that an emotional game against Nevada that was still a little bit of a hangover (on Friday)? I don’t know. But we have to get over it.”
The Lobos likely missed guard Jaelen House at Air Force more than they were suffering from any Nevada hangover. House, the Lobos’ second-leading scorer at 17.3 points a game, injured his hamstring in practice on Thursday and missed the Air Force game. Jamal Mashburn, the Lobos’ top scorer (20 points a game), scored 32 points in the loss in front of an Air Force crowd of just 1,899.
“To say it (the loss of House) was not a factor would be silly on my part,” Pitino said. “But we just let them (Air Force) do whatever they wanted to do. They were never as uncomfortable as they needed to be.”
Jake Heidbreder had 26 points for Air Force, which shot 33-of-53 (66 percent) against the Lobos and 9-of-17 on 3-pointers. Heidbreder was 11-of-13 from the floor and 3-of-3 on threes.
No. 2 San Diego State (20-5, 11-2) beat No. 4 Utah State, 63-61, and No. 7 UNLV, 82-71, last week. The Aztecs outscored Utah State 44-28 on the road to steal the victory. San Diego State’s bench outscored the Aggies’ bench, 30-9.
“It’s been all year that we’ve gotten great production off the bench,” Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher said. “Most teams take a step back when they go to the bench. But at times we play better. That’s the beauty of this team. We try to find the guys who are playing the best and then we narrow the lineup down in the second half to have the best group of guys on the floor.”
The Aztecs were 12-of-28 on 3-pointers at home on Saturday against UNLV (16-9, 5-8). UNLV’s Elijah Harkless had 24 points against San Diego State after scoring 33 in a 69-59 victory over No. 11 Wyoming three nights earlier.
“They play incredibly well together,” said UNLV coach Kevin Kruger of San Diego State. “They’re incredibly selfless, they help each other. They fight for each other.”
Harkless was also impressed with the Aztec bench. “They rotate guys off the bench who come in harder than the guy that was starting the game,” Harkless said. “Their depth is a big thing for them. Each guy that comes in wants to make an impact.”
No. 3 Boise State (19-6, 9-3) beat Wyoming, 75-63, in its lone game last week. Tyson Degenhart led the Broncos with 20 points in the home win in front of 11,037 fans.
“A Mountain West victory at any time now is terrific,” said Boise State coach Leon Rice, whose Broncos are competing with Nevada and San Diego state for the Mountain West regular season title.
“We just give it everything we have and lay it out on the floor,” Boise State’s Naje Smith said after scoring 18 points and grabbing three steals against Wyoming. “We just keep dreaming bigger and bigger.”
Utah State (19-7, 8-5), which hosts Nevada this Saturday, also suffered a 69-64 loss at San Jose State after losing to San Diego State earlier in the week.
Omari Moore had 27 points for No. 6 San Jose State (15-10, 6-6) in front of a home crowd of just 2,389.
“Moore made a lot of really good plays down the stretch,” Utah State coach Ryan Odom said. “It hurts but you can’t let it deter the rest of the season.”
“I don’t know what to say, honestly,” Utah State’s Sean Bairstow said. “I just don’t think we played to what we know we can do. We didn’t finish plays we normally do.”
San Jose State was coming off a disappointing 70-62 loss to No. 10 Fresno State earlier in the week when Moore had 22 points.
No. 8 Colorado State (11-14, 3-9) beat No. 9 Air Force (13-13, 4-9) in its only game last week, 69-53. John Tonje scored 21 points and Isaiah Stevens had 20 for the Rams. Colorado State dominated the Falcons in the paint, 42-20.
The Nevada Appeal’s Mountain West men’s basketball rankings for the week of Feb. 13:
1. NEVADA (20-6, 10-3): Last week: Nevada 77, New Mexico 76 (Feb. 7); Nevada 77, Fresno State 66 (Feb. 10). This week: Nevada at Utah State (Feb. 18).
2. SAN DIEGO STATE (20-5, 11-2): Last week: San Diego State 63, Utah State 61 (Feb. 8); San Diego State 82, UNLV 71 (Feb. 11). This week: San Diego State at Fresno State (Feb. 15).
3. BOISE STATE (19-6, 9-3): Last week: Boise State 75, Wyoming 63 (Feb. 11). This week: Boise State at Colorado State (Feb. 15), UNLV at Boise State (Feb. 19).
4. UTAH STATE (19-7, 8-5): Last week: San Diego State 63, Utah State 61 (Feb. 8); San Jose State 69, Utah State 64 (Feb. 11). This week: Air Force at Utah State (Feb. 14), Nevada at Utah State (Feb. 18).
5. NEW MEXICO (19-6, 6-6): Last week: Nevada 77, New Mexico 76 (Feb. 7); Air Force 89, New Mexico 77 (Feb. 10). This week: New Mexico at San Jose State (Feb. 17).
6. SAN JOSE STATE (15-10, 6-6): Last week: Fresno State 70, San Jose State 62 (Feb. 7); San Jose State 69, Utah State 64 (Feb. 11). This week: San Jose State at UNLV (Feb. 14), New Mexico at San Jose State (Feb. 17).
7. UNLV (16-9, 5-8): Last week: UNLV 69, Wyoming 59 (Feb. 8); San Diego State 82, UNLV 71 (Feb. 11). This week: San Jose State at UNLV (Feb. 14), UNLV at Boise State (Feb. 19).
8. COLORADO STATE (11-14, 3-9): Last week: Colorado State 69, Air Force 53 (Feb. 7). This week: Boise State at Colorado State (Feb. 15), Colorado State at Fresno State (Feb. 18).
9. AIR FORCE (13-13, 4-9): Last week: Colorado State 69, Air Force 53 (Feb. 7); Air Force 89, New Mexico 77 (Feb. 10). This week: Air Force at Utah State (Feb. 14), Air Force at Wyoming (Feb. 17).
10. FRESNO STATE (9-15, 5-8): Last week: Fresno State 70, San Jose State 62 (Feb. 7); Nevada 77, Fresno State 66 (Feb. 10). This week: San Diego State at Fresno State (Feb. 15), Colorado State at Fresno State (Feb. 18).
11. WYOMING (7-17, 2-10): Last week: UNLV 69, Wyoming 59 (Feb. 8); Boise State 75, Wyoming 63 (Feb. 11). This week: Wyoming at New Mexico (Feb. 14), Air Force at Wyoming (Feb. 17).
Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.
Sign in to comment