Joe Santoro: Take 5 to celebrate beating UNLV
Northern Nevada is now basking in the glory of beating the UNLV Rebels.
Go ahead, Nevada Wolf Pack fans. Enjoy it. Wear your Sixth Letter of the Alphabet-UNLV shirts and strut around town. Take pride in the knowledge your Wolf Pack is the best college basketball team in the state of Nevada. You’ve earned it.
Now forget it.
OK, celebrate another five minutes or so if you need it. It’s a win over UNLV, after all.
Then move on.
It’s time to put Wednesday night’s 104-77 Wolf Pack victory at Lawlor Events Center over the Rebels in proper perspective. A good time was had by all dressed in silver and blue. Beating the red out of UNLV is always fun for those who live north of Tonopah.
But that’s it. Nothing more. Battle Born bragging rights. Northern Nevada is where the best college basketball team in Nevada resides. The spoils of victory from Wednesday night end there. All of the Wolf Pack’s meaningful goals — Mountain West regular season and tournament championship, NCAA tournament berth — are still out there. None of those goals were accomplished Wednesday by beating one of the worst UNLV teams in history.
“Yeah, definitely,” Pack sophomore Cam Oliver said. “We’re onto San Diego State (the Pack’s next opponent on Sunday).”
Once you get past the slick, new Battle Born uniforms the Pack wore Wednesday and Michael Buffer’s cheesy but always stirring “Let’s Get Ready to Roundball” player introductions, all that happened Wednesday was the Wolf Pack beat an awful college basketball team.
A team in transition. A team in chaos. A team in turmoil. A UNLV team in name only.
“We have to put this game behind us,” Pack coach Eric Musselman said.
UNLV is now 10-15 on the year overall and 3-9 in Mountain West play. It has won just five of 18 games since Dec. 1. It’s looking up at every other team in the conference. It’s likely on its way to just its third losing season since 1959. And none of this surprises anyone.
The Rebels were supposed to be bad this year. And they haven’t disappointed. The way the Rebels played defense on Wednesday, former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian would’ve taken the towel he used to chew on and cover his eyes in shame.
It’s not often the Wolf Pack meets a Rebel team who has one arm tied behind its back and one leg in cast.
The Rebels brought a losing record into the game against the Pack for just the eighth time in the rivalry’s 83-game history. The Rebels also brought a four-game losing streak to Lawlor. That has happened just one other time in the rivalry’s 55-year history, on Feb. 1, 1971.
This was a room service victory for the Pack. New uniforms. Michael Buffer and his microphone hanging from the rafters. It was a Pack marketing department’s dream because the game — the victory — was a mere formality. All the Pack had to do was open the door and tip the delivery boy.
This one was over quicker than some of the Mike Tyson fights Buffer was present for in the 1980s and 90s.
“This shows a lot of progress,” senior D.J. Fenner said. “When you look at the history of this rivalry it is pretty lopsided. But to win like this, this definitely shows progress on our part.”
The Pack certainly deserved to enjoy such a Rebel roasting after all the punishment those Sixth Letter of the Alphabet-UNLV bullies have inflicted on the Pack over the last 55 years. That’s why there’s nothing wrong with the Pack inflating the score to more than 100 on Wednesday. It was the first time the Pack had beaten UNLV by more than 20 points in the rivalry’s history and the first time they have scored 100 points against the Rebels.
“We didn’t really think about scoring 100,” Fenner said. “What we wanted to do was win by 30.”
Well, they left one goal for the rematch in Las Vegas on Feb. 25.
Make no mistake, there’s no such thing as running up the score on your rival. You keep pouring it on so they feel it the next time you see them. UNLV, don’t forget, has never felt sorry for the Pack. They beat the Pack by 50 (131-81) when they brought their defending national champions to Lawlor on Dec. 8, 1990. They hoisted up 46 3-point shots (making 21) that night and ran up the score on a 1-5 Wolf Pack team. That 50-point difference is still the biggest in the rivalry. But UNLV has also won four other games against the Pack by 30 or more points.
When you have a chance to make a statement in a rivalry game you make it again and again and again.
But it was just one game. Also remember the Pack beat UNLV last year at Lawlor and 28 days later lost to the Rebels in Las Vegas.
“We understand we have to go down there in two weeks,” Musselman said.
The Pack is the best college basketball team in the state of Nevada this morning. No question. But it’s one thing to pass the eye test in one game as the best college basketball team in the state. It’s quite another to pass the history test and do it over an extended period of time.
UNLV, despite what we saw on Wednesday, still owns this rivalry’s history as Fenner pointed out. One 27-point win doesn’t even dent that fact.
The Rebels have won 59 of the 83 games against the school they still like to childishly call UNR or Nevada-Reno. The Rebels once beat the Pack 11 consecutive times. They also had winning streaks of 10 and eight (twice) in this rivalry. The best the Pack have ever done against UNLV is win four in a row. And that was during the only other time in their history when the Rebels were as bad as they are now, back in the mid-1990s.
Right now the Pack win streak over UNLV is one. No need to throw a parade down Virginia Street just yet.
It was one of the best knockouts at a Michael Buffer event in years. But UNLV has beaten the Wolf Pack by 20 or more points no less than 16 times. The Pack has beaten UNLV by 20 or more just twice. UNLV has scored 100 or more points 13 times against the Pack. The Pack has now done it once.
Beating a bad UNLV team on your home floor is nice. Bravo. Pats on the back all around. But don’t dwell on it. This Wolf Pack team has loftier goals this year. You can be sure Musselman has already reminded his team of that fact.
So, go ahead, enjoy Wednesday’s win for another minute or two. You deserve it.
Then move on.