Malik Story scores 34 points as Nevada Wolf Pack advances
AP Basketball Writer
LAS VEGAS – Malik Story had a career-high 34 points and hit all six of his 3-point attempts, helping Nevada beat Fresno State 90-80 in the first round of the WAC tournament on Wednesday.
Nevada (13-18), the No. 6 seed, built a 19-point lead in the first half before allowing the Bulldogs (14-17) to chip away in the closing minutes. The Wolf Pack sealed it with six free throws in the closing minute, earning a spot in the quarterfinals against No. 3 seed New Mexico State on Thursday.
Deonte Burton added 20 points and Dario Hunt 12 for Nevada, which hit 12 3-pointers.
The seventh-seeded Bulldogs, who’ll be joining Nevada in the Mountain West Conference in 2012, couldn’t stop Story and didn’t shoot well until the closing minutes to see their late-developing rally fall short.
Greg Smith had 14 points and 20 rebounds, and Tim Steed added 20 points for Fresno State.
Nevada struggled early in the season, losing seven straight after beating Montana in the opener, and again down the stretch, losing three of its final four games. Its only win at the end was against Louisiana Tech, which didn’t get an invite to the postseason tournament.
Of course, Fresno State didn’t exactly light it up, either. The Bulldogs opened WAC play with three straight wins, then dropped six of their next seven. Fresno State lost four straight conference games late in the season – wrapped around nonconference wins over Cal State Bakersfield and California-Riverside – before closing out the season with an 85-70 win over Hawaii.
The teams split two games in the regular season, each winning on its home court. The most recent, Jan. 27 at Fresno State, was centered on the guys inside. Hunt had 24 points and 11 rebounds in the game while Smith had 18 points and 10 rebounds. The Wolf Pack won it 79-76.
Story was the story in the rubber match.
The sophomore guard had 22 combined points in the previous two meetings, but couldn’t seem to miss against the Bulldogs the third time around.
A transfer from Indiana, Story opened with three straight 3-pointers, including one from about 25 feet. He had 13 points in the first nine minutes to put the Wolf Pack up 26-12.
Nevada made a brief run to cut into the lead, but Story turned the Wolf Pack back, scoring on a jumper and another long 3-pointer to make it 43-26 with 3 1/2 minutes left in the half.
Story hit all seven of his shots, including four 3-pointers, to score 19 points in the opening half, and the Wolf Pack were 16 for 28 from the field to lead 45-26.
Fresno State managed to chip away at the lead in the second half, pulling within 72-60 on a 3-pointer by Kevin Olekaibe with just over 6 minutes left. Story answered with a three-point play on a jumper and later hit a pullup 3-pointer to make it an 18-point lead.
Fresno State again fought back, pulling within 84-76 on Tim Steed’s layup with 1:16 left – after Story blew an open layup – but the Wolf Pack hit 6 of 8 free throws to seal it.