UNLV Rebels ride win into Wolf Pack territory | NevadaAppeal.com

UNLV Rebels ride win into Wolf Pack territory

Joe Santoro

Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .

The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team, it seems, is getting the UNLV Rebels at the wrong time. The Rebels will come to Lawlor Events Center on Saturday with a three-game winning streak, winning each of those games by an average of 20 points under interim head coach Todd Simon. The Rebels, who seem motivated by the firing of coach Dave Rice two weeks ago, are coming off an impressive 80-68 win in front of 9,364 fans at Utah State. So the Lawlor crowd won’t scare them. UNLV is just 12-7 (the Pack is 11-7 after beating Wyoming 75-69 on Wednesday) but four of their losses were to Arizona, Arizona State, Wichita State and UCLA and their other three losses were by a combined six points. There is nothing in the crystal ball that would suggest the Wolf Pack can beat the Rebels on Saturday. Except two things. The Pack, thanks to Eric Musselman, will have the better head coach and the home court advantage. That usually wins in college basketball. Wolf Pack 78, UNLV 72.

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The Wolf Pack has yet to beat a team as physically gifted as UNLV this year. The win over Wyoming was nice but the Cowboys basically have one player (Josh Adams) to worry about. The Rebels’ talent comes at you in waves. The Wolf Pack is not going to run the Rebels out of the gym like they do against less talented rosters. The Rebels, like a jittery greyhound before a race, want to run. The Rebels are faster, stronger, longer and deeper than the Pack. Trying to outrun the Rebels might be like trying to out-punch a young Mike Tyson. Half the Pack roster might foul out in the first half if they attempt to run with the Rebels. It will be interesting to see if Musselman’s up-tempo philosophy takes a one-game break on Saturday. The Pack, after all, had success under coach David Carter against the Rebels, winning three in a row at one point, because Carter’s deliberate offense simply bored the Rebels to death.

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UNLV has won 58 of the 80 games in the Silver State rivalry. The Rebels won 38 of 42 games against the Wolf Pack from 1966-93. The Rebels won the last two games in the rivalry, winning at Lawlor last January and destroying the Pack in the Mountain West tournament in Las Vegas last March in Carter’s farewell. The Pack doesn’t yet have a signature victory in the Musselman era. This would be it.

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There would be nothing more heartwarming and inspiring than to see Peyton Manning walk off the field at the Super Bowl next month a winner. But there will be offensive linemen on the field and probably a couple dozen fans in the stands this Sunday who could likely throw the ball with more zip than Manning. It’s not all about firing fastballs but Manning doesn’t even have his changeup anymore. Unless Tom Brady turns the ball over three times and the Denver Broncos defense pitches a shutout, Manning’s career could come to an ugly end on Sunday. For those of you over the age of 60, think Y.A. Tittle pictured kneeling down on the field late in his career with brood trickling down his bald head. New England 28, Denver 13.

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Most of the hype around this year’s Super Bowl will surround either Manning or Brady. Brady, who has already started a record six Super Bowls, will be after his record fifth Super Bowl victory. He is now tied with Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw with four. It will be tough for 49ers fans to witness, but it would be fitting if Brady, a Bay area native, separates himself from former 49er Montana and Bradshaw by winning No. 5 in the Bay area. If Manning wins the Super Bowl this year without an arm, well, there will be those who call him the best quarterback in history and they might be right. Nobody, after all, has won a Super Bowl without an arm since Trent Dilfer.

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There is nothing about the Carolina Panthers that scares you except, maybe, having to endure two weeks of hype about them leading up to the Super Bowl. The Arizona Cardinals, who beat Green Bay in one of the best NFL playoff games in history last week, have more weapons. The Cardinals are more fun to watch. There’s nothing fun about the Panthers. But all they do is win. And they’ll be home on Sunday. Panthers 27, Cardinals 24.

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Chip Kelly didn’t exactly appear at his first San Francisco 49ers press conference as head coach wearing a Colin Kaepernick No. 7 jersey. Kelly was very careful not to show any favoritism between Blaine Gabbert and Kaepernick. Don’t read anything into all that. Kelly isn’t going to commit to his 2016 starting quarterback in late January. Nobody is sacred on a Chip Kelly roster. But we’d be stunned if Kaepernick isn’t the 49ers starter in Week 1. Kaepernick is motivated. Kelly is motivated. Both, basically, got fired this past season and they both have a lot to prove in 2016. Some other team is going to win the Super Bowl on their home field and celebrate in their locker room next month. The most motivated team in the NFL next year will be the 49ers.

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The Golden State Warriors are now 39-4 and still haven’t lost a game at home. The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, whose record of 72 victories is being challenged by the Warriors this year, were 40-3 after 43 games. Can the Warriors lose seven more games this regular season? Doubtful. First of all, they still have 22 homes games. Who is going to beat them at home? It shouldn’t shock anyone if the Warriors go 41-0 at home this year. That means they only have to win 12 of their remaining 17 road games to get to a record 73 victories. The Warriors still have to play two games at San Antonio and one each at the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City. Even if they lose all four (very unlikely), that still leaves them at 74 wins. Don’t be against it.