Nevada Wolf Pack’s specialty is protecting Lawlor says Joe Santoro | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada Wolf Pack’s specialty is protecting Lawlor says Joe Santoro

Joe Santoro
Joe Santoro

Sports fodder for a Friday morning … The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team sure knows how to leave its fans smiling. A year ago the Wolf Pack ended its home season by beating Morehead State in the College Basketball Invitational title game at Lawlor Events Center. This year the Pack will close its Lawlor schedule (barring a home game in the NIT or CBI) with a showdown for the Mountain West title against Colorado State on Saturday. The last time such a winner-take-all conference showdown took place in Reno in the final regular season game was Feb. 23, 1957, when the Pack beat Sacramento State to win the Far Western Conference championship. The Mountain West couldn’t have planned this any better.

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Colorado State has won seven games in a row and 10 of its last 11. They’re the only team in the Mountain West that’s even remotely playing at the same level as the Pack right now. But Lawlor will be sold out Saturday. The Pack has won 17 of its last 18 home games. Coach Eric Musselman’s Wolf Pack simply don’t lose a home game when there’s a prize on the line. Don’t forget they won five in a row with a CBI title at stake last year. The Pack has lost a mere four of 32 games at home under Musselman overall. The Pack under Musselman protects Lawlor like a mama wolf protects her pups. Wolf Pack 81, Colorado State 72.

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The most intriguing matchup on Saturday will be between the Pack’s Cam Oliver and Colorado State’s Emmanuel Omogbo. They’re both 6-foot-8 big men who like to shoot threes. Oliver has about 10 pounds on Omogbo but the Rams’ center is a fierce rebounder, leading the Mountain West at 10.9 a game. Omogbo, who has played with a heavy heart and a never-ending determination since both his parents died in a house fire a little over a year ago, has 18 double doubles this year. He’s the heart and soul of Colorado State. Oliver has struggled the last two games, missing all six of his 3-point shots while averaging just 11 points and 4.5 rebounds. But the Pack didn’t really need him in blowout wins over UNLV and San Jose State. They’ll need him on Saturday.

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The Wolf Pack’s Marcus Marshall deserves to be named the Mountain West’s Player of the Year this season. The Pack senior leads the conference in scoring at 19.7 points a game. He’s tied for third in assists (3.4 a game), is third in free throw percentage (.835), fourth in 3-point percentage (.400) and third in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.1). He also leads the conference in 3-pointers with 3.5 a game. Marshall has been the best and most consistent player on the conference’s best team. He takes the Pack’s biggest shots and handles the ball when the pressure is the greatest. He’s pound-for-pound the toughest player in the conference, mentally and physically.

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Don’t overlook what freshman Josh Hall has done for the Wolf Pack lately. The 6-foot-6 guard, who missed all or most of six consecutive games in January when he was sent crashing to the floor against San Jose State on a lay-up attempt right after Christmas, has given the Pack some much-needed depth. He’s averaging 24 minutes, 4.6 points, 3.4 assists and 5.8 rebounds in the Pack’s last five games. When Hall plays 10 or more minutes in a game this season, the Pack is 13-1. Depth will be the key to the Wolf Pack making an extended run now that the games are going to start piling up in the postseason tournaments.

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It appears Colin Kaepernick’s days with the San Francisco 49ers are coming to an end. ESPN reported this week Kaepernick will opt out of his contract with the 49ers and become a free agent. What’s the best fit for the Kaepernick? The Cleveland Browns and New York Jets come quickly to mind. But other opportunities might arise in Chicago, Buffalo, Houston or even Denver. The place he fits best? San Francisco. But no matter what happens in the coming weeks, Kaepernick’s career in the NFL is at a crossroads. He’s no longer the quarterback with amazing ability who’s going to change the way we look at the position forever. He’s now that guy who kneels during the national anthem. He needs to choose his next employer wisely.