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Don’t underestimate Nevada’s win Thursday against San Jose State

Jeremy Evans

With apologies in advance to the players who scored, rebounded, assisted and actually made it possible, Jason Eversteyn and London Wilson are why Nevada basketball is no longer a token member of the Western Athletic Conference.

The move to the WAC was made two years ago, of course, but it was made official on Thursday night when the Wolf Pack beat San Jose State 86-59. The Wolf Pack hasn’t beaten a conference opponent that bad since a 104-69 win over Northern Arizona during the 1991-92 season, when they were in the Big Sky Conference.

Two better conferences–and coaches–later, Nevada can now be considered a basketball program. Teams aren’t a member of that club until you thoroughly beat another team in your conference. Or until you punish a team in your conference that actually played well. (The Spartans shot 44 percent from the field and 33 percent on their 3-pointers.) Or until you finish a conference game with players on the floor like Wilson and Eversteyn, a 7-foot-1 Australian center who couldn’t move up and down the floor on a scooter.

“It was nice to see London and big ‘J’ get out there,” said guard Terrance Green. “You always know big ‘J’ is getting in when the crowd gets crazy.”

The 5,699 in attendance at Lawlor Events Center were chanting ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie’ even before the time was right to put the lug in there. Coach Trent Johnson, now in his fourth season with Nevada, didn’t put Wilson and Eversteyn in until the score was 80-52 with four minutes left. Not even those two guys could mess this one up.

It was a welcome sight for the Wolf Pack players, who have been forced to battle in each of their three WAC wins and losses before Thursday. One of those losses was in overtime and the other two were by a combined seven points in road losses to Tulsa and Rice.

“It’s a relief,” said guard Jerry Petty. “We needed that.”

In the second half, the Wolf Pack were so far out in front that San Jose State Phil Johnson had basically conceded the game with 11 minutes left. (Johnson had the Spartans’ version of Eversteyn and Wilson on the floor after Nevada went on a 19-2 run and was led 63-37.)

It used to be that teams always felt they could beat Nevada. No matter what. Not anymore. Johnson hasn’t bought into the concept just yet. But, remember, Johnson went 19-38 in his first two seasons and has never had a winning conference record in either the Big West or WAC. He doesn’t take much for granted.

“Time and score in games like that don’t mean anything to me,” said Johnson. “When we’re up 15, 16, we’re trying to get better. Only the guys on the floor and if are they executing is all that matters. I don’t really care about anything else.”

He must have been fibbing because Eversteyn and Wilson were playing, weren’t they? And because they were, Nevada feels it can beat anybody. Everyone except guard Kirk Snyder, Nevada’s most brash player, said the team couldn’t have played a better game against San Jose State.

“In basketball, you don’t want to say that because then you don’t have to practice,” Snyder said. “It’ll be fun to get out there and play against them on Saturday.”

Them is Hawai’i, the defending WAC regular season and tournament champions. The Rainbow Warriors are tied with the Wolf Pack for third in the conference at 4-3. When the defending conference champion came to Lawlor the last two years, Nevada wasn’t saying it would be fun to play them. Confidence is an amazing thing.

“Going into Saturday night we know we’re playing the defending champs in Hawaii. I’m confident we can do well,” Green said.

Jeremy Evans is a Nevada Appeal sports writer.