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Awesome fans not enough for a Pack win

THOMAS RANSON
Appeal News Service
BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Nevada junior forward Nick Fazekas reacts after the Wolf Pack lost their opening round game to the Montana Grizzlies 87-79 at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday.
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SALT LAKE CITY – Crowds love to cheer for the underdog in March Madness, and for the first time in three years, Nevada wasn’t the underdog.

Nevertheless, Nevada fans stood proud to the school song, despite the Wolf Pack’s loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.

Perhaps the most colorful fan in the Nevada crowd, Leroy Hardy, dressed up as a wolf with blue face paint and a large basketball-shaped hat.

“I’m a big Wolf Pack fan. I think we have a great team with a lot of chemistry this year,” said Hardy, a 51-year-old premium-season ticket holder from Incline Village. “This is a tradition that started with our first March Madness. I got painted up.”

Hardy traveled to Seattle and St. Louis two years ago when Nevada made it to the Sweet 16. He also watched the Pack play Texas and Illinois last year in Indianapolis.

“I enjoy the electricity, camaraderie and excitement of it all,” said Hardy, who flew to the game on the team’s charter plane.

Hardy was pleased with the fan support during the regular season, WAC tournament and the NCAA tournament.

“I’m really impressed with the fan support. Everyone taking time off their work schedule is real flattering to the team and the hard work they’ve done,” Hardy said.

Nevada Athletics Director Cary Groth said tickets quickly ran out the day after Selection Sunday last weekend. Because of Boston College’s low fan count, Groth said Nevada was able to get more tickets.

“We still had people wanting tickets,” Groth said. “Our fans have been wonderful throughout the season. We’ve had a couple sellouts (at Lawlor Events Center).”

The classic architecture of the Huntsman Center left some Pack fans in amazement.

“It’s a great atmosphere. I love NCAA basketball,” said Harvey Whittemore, a premium-season ticket holder since 1978. “The most amazing part of this is you see a ton of fans root for the underdog right off the bat.”

Whittemore said this wasn’t the first time he and his family have been to the University of Utah’s basketball arena.

“I love this stadium. We’ve been here before,” he said. “It’s a great stadium for basketball. It allows the people at the top to have really good seats.”

Nevada students Jarron Hildebrand and Andrew Olivero, both sophomores majoring in criminal justice, differed in their opinion of the appearance of the arena.

“It’s not as well kept. It looks kind of old and run down,” Olivero said.

Hildebrand didn’t figure the Huntsman Center would be bigger than Lawlor.

“It was a lot bigger than what I anticipated. It’s real steep, and it can be real loud,” he added.

n Thomas Ranson is a University of Nevada, Reno student who grew up in Fallon.