Pack handles March Madness pressure | NevadaAppeal.com

Pack handles March Madness pressure

Nevada guard Hallice Cooke (13) and forward Elijah Foster (12) celebrate at the end end of the second half of a second-round game against Cincinnati, in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, March 18, 2018. Nevada defeated Cincinnati 75-73. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
AP | AP

I’ve said it many times, and I’ll say it again, March Madness is the best sporting event on the face of the planet.

That’s saying something coming from a diehard baseball guy like myself, but college basketball in March beats a World Series any day of the week even if the Giants and A’s are involved. It beats a Stanley Cup final or an NBA final.

Where else can you see a No. 7 seed like Nevada come back from back-to-back double-digit deficits. Even the strongest Nevada fans had to have their doubts, especially on Sunday when the deficit was 22 against Cincinnati. If they tell you differently, they’re absolutely lying.

The South bracket is a fraction of what it should be. The top four seeds are all gone, and Kentucky at No. 5 and Nevada at No. 7 are the highest seeds left out of the 16-team region.

On paper, and I know that probably isn’t worth much with the way the mighty have continued to fall, Kentucky and Nevada could be headed for a collision with a Final Four berth at stake.

No doubt No. 11 Loyola of Chicago feels differently. Loyola has knocked off two quality teams as well. Loyola has knocked off No. 6 Miami and No. 3 Tennessee.

The one disturbing trend about Nevada is its typically slow starts. It has happened in five straight games — the regular-season finale against San Diego State, the MW tourney opener against UNLV, the semifinal loss to San Diego State, and the two South regional game against Texas and Cincinnati.

Not sure if you can blame it totally on nerves. Maybe Nevada was overconfident against UNLV because it had blown out the Rebels at Thomas & Mack late in the season. I can sort of accept that.

No way should Nevada been overconfident in the two SDSU games and the games here in Nashville. In all four of those games, Nevada gave up a lot of length, and that’s never good for the Pack.

I’ll admit, I had some serious doubts on Sunday. That was a huge deficit. At halftime, I saw shades of the San Diego State, but the Pack proved me wrong, and I don’t mind being proven wrong in those instances.

“We don’t like playing, having to be down by that much,” Cody Martin said after Sunday’s win. “I guess our team likes to play under pressure. I don’t know, it just shows how hard that we play. We’re going to have to find a way to start off on a better foot and make sure we don’t get down by that much again.”

The mental make-up of this group is different than most of the Wolf Pack teams I’ve covered in the past. Grit is this team’s middle name, or it should be. Nobody wants the season to end, and maybe that’s driving the Pack right now. This group is one win away from 30 victories. Pretty heady stuff.

“It just shows who we are and what our culture is,” back-up forward Elijah Foster said. “We just always do it for the people next to us. You can’t describe being down by 20 points with 10 minutes left and coming back. That says a lot about who we are as men and as a team.”

“Positive thoughts and positive vibes gave us this outcome,” Hallice Cooke said. “We never give up, this locker room. It’s just the mental toughness. We take the identity of our coach and run with it.”

All the way to Atlanta.

“It’s the vision we saw, you know,” Cooke said. “Coach said (last April). He put up a card in the locker room that had 16 written on it. We worked toward it every day, through the ups and downs, through the injuries and all the tough times. We made it. We’re here, and we’re not done yet.”