Pack hoops team gears up for ESPN BracketBuster game |

Pack hoops team gears up for ESPN BracketBuster game

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal

RENO – It’s going to be quite a while before the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team plays in front of more than a handful of friendly faces.

The Wolf Pack will open a three-game road trip this afternoon (12:05 p.m., ESPN2) at Missouri State that will see them cover about 8,000 miles in a span of eight days. The Pack will visit three states – they will also play at San Jose State on Thursday and Hawaii on Feb. 27 – before returning to Lawlor Events Center to meet New Mexico State on March 4.

“It’s definitely going to be a tough trip,” Pack sophomore Luke Babbitt said. “We’re going to the midwest and then back all the way to Hawaii. But we’re looking forward to it. And after that we get to play the rest of our games at home.”

The Pack will close out its regular season with a home game against Louisiana Tech on March 6 before opening the Western Athletic Conference tournament at Lawlor Events Center on March 11.

The next three games could be a pivotal stretch for this Pack team.

“This road trip will determine who we are,” Pack senior Brandon Fields said. “It will give us our identity. We have to be tough on the road.”

The road hasn’t been all that kind to the Pack this year. The Wolf Pack is 16-9 overall and 8-4 in the WAC. But much of that has been built at Lawlor where the Pack is 12-1 overall and 5-1 in the WAC. The Wolf Pack is just 4-8 away from Lawlor this year.

“There’s no more important time than right now to win on the road,” Pack junior Armon Johnson said.

Missouri State is 17-10 overall and 7-9 in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Bears, though, are 13-2 at home in Springfield, Mo. Missouri State is led by 6-foot-6 sophomore Kyle Weems (13.8 points, 5.6 rebounds per game) and 6-1 junior guard Adam Leonard (12.5 points).

The Pack, which has never met Missouri State, is 8-13 in its history against teams from the MWC. The Pack is also 5-1 in BracketBusters since the made-for-TV series began in the 2003-04 season. That one loss, however, came in the Pack’s lone BracketBuster road game (at Southern Illinois two years ago).

“I want to make up for that one loss,” said Johnson, a freshman that season.

Wolf Pack coach David Carter welcomes the chance to play a solid opponent in a part of the country the Wolf Pack rarely visits.

“This gives us a chance to play another quality opponent,” Carter said. “That’s always a positive.”

Carter said the three-game road trip isn’t as grueling as it might look on the surface. The Pack, after all, will be able to return home for a few days between the Missouri State and San Jose State games.

“It’s not too bad,” said Carter, who left Reno with his team for Missouri on Thursday. “The first part of the trip will be a grind all the way to the midwest. But San Jose is a short trip and we’re used to going to Hawaii. So the second week of the trip won’t be too bad,”

Carter, though, said the three games are important to getting the Pack headed in the right direction for the stretch run.

“We just have to try to get better each game,” he said. “Those three games will be important for us to build some momentum for the WAC tournament.”