Pack hoops down to just 2 home games in regular season | NevadaAppeal.com

Pack hoops down to just 2 home games in regular season

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal

RENO – After a tsunami warning that struck fear into people on the Hawaiian islands Saturday, the last thing the Nevada Wolf Pack expected to be doing in Honolulu was playing a basketball game.

“I woke up at 6 a.m. to sirens,” Pack forward Luke Babbitt said. “I thought I was dreaming. But when they told me the game was canceled, I just went back to sleep to take a nap. I was going to hit the beach later.”

A few hours later, though, the tsunami warnings were canceled and the Hawaii-Nevada game was back on as scheduled. The result was a 74-63 loss for the Wolf Pack and a long plane ride back home early Sunday morning.

“We didn’t know if it was life threatening or not,” senior Brandon Fields said. “It was hard for us to get our focus back. We were all on the 26th floor just looking out the window at the water.”

The Pack spent the majority of the day Saturday thinking about everything but basketball.

“We spent the day looking at the ocean,” Pack coach David Carter said. “Our mind wasn’t on basketball. To switch it back on like that, it’s just not realistic. My mindset wasn’t about preparing to play a game. My mindset was about everybody’s safety and getting back to Reno.”

The Wolf Pack doesn’t have to leave Reno for the next two weeks. The Pack will play New Mexico State at 7:05 p.m. today and Louisiana Tech at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Lawlor Events Center to close out the regular season. The Western Athletic Conference tournament will also be at Lawlor on March 11-13.

“These next two games are very big,” Fields said. “We want to get confidence for the WAC tournament. These next two games will set the tone.”

The Pack (17-11 overall and 9-5 in the WAC) will finish second, third or fourth in the WAC regular season regardless of whether they win or lose these next two games. New Mexico State (19-9, 11-3) still has its eye on first place. Utah State (13-2, 24-6), which hosts New Mexico State on Saturday, has already clinched a tie for first. Louisiana Tech (22-7, 9-5) is tied for third with the Pack.

“We want to finish second,” Carter said. “We know if we win both our games we have a real good chance to finish second. That’s our goal.”

The last thing the Pack wants to do is go into the WAC tournament with doubts. They also don’t want to give New Mexico State or Louisiana Tech any added confidence.

“We definitely need these two games,” said Ray Kraemer, one of four Pack seniors (the others are Fields, Joey Shaw and Richie Phillips) that will be honored before Saturday’s game.

Shaw said the loss to Hawaii could benefit the Pack in the long run. The Pack, after all, is 8-2 after a loss this season.

“I think (a loss) focuses you,” Shaw said. “It brings everybody back to reality. A loss always humbles you. You listen to your coach more.”

Babbitt said the Pack can take its game to another level the next two weeks.

“We’ve been up and down,” Babbitt said. “That’s obvious. We’ve played real well at times and other times we’ve slipped up a little. But there’s no reason we can’t play our best right now, especially at home.”

New Mexico State is led by guards Jahmar Young (21.0 points a game) and Jonathan Gibson (18.3). The Pack held Gibson and Young to a combined 27 points in a 77-67 win over New Mexico State in Las Cruces, N.M., on Jan. 4.

The Aggies, though, also feature center Hamidu Rahman (10.7 points, 8.7 rebounds) and forwards Troy Gillenwater (13.6 points, 6.3 rebounds), Wendell McKines (10.7 points, 9.4 rebounds) and guard Hernst Laroche (3.8 assists). The 6-foot-8 Gillenwater did not play against the Pack in January because of an injury.

“He changes everything,” Carter said. “When we played them and he (Gillenwater) was out, when they had to go to their bench, it weakened their front line. That won’t be the case this time.”

Carter said it is important for the Pack to defend its turf this week.

“Our goal all year has been to take care of home,” Carter said. “If we beat these two teams, it will put doubts in their head.”

The Pack doesn’t want to be the team with the doubts next week.

“It’s exciting,” Babbitt said. “It’s at the point now where it’s do or die. Hopefully we’ll get some momentum going into the WAC tournament.”