Pack one win away from MSG | NevadaAppeal.com

Pack one win away from MSG

JOE SANTORO
For the Nevada Appeal

The Nevada Wolf Pack is one victory away from New York’s Madison Square Garden.

The Wolf Pack, which beat the Bucknell Bison 75-67 on Sunday afternoon at Lawlor Events Center in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament, will take on the Stanford Cardinal tonight (6 p.m., ESPN2) in Palo Alto with a spot in the NIT Final Four (March 27-29) in New York on the line.

Stanford (23-11) beat Illinois State in overtime 92-88 late Monday night to advance to Wednesday’s game at Maples Pavilion.

“They are a very physical team,” Wolf Pack coach David Carter said. “They found a way to win (on Monday) so it’s going to be a tough environment for us.”

Tickets to the game, which will be televised on ESPN2, should not be difficult to come by. Stanford, which beat Cleveland State 76-65 in its opening NIT game last week, has attracted under 2,000 fans to each of its NIT home games so far. Just 1,781 showed up Monday night to see the win over Illinois State and just 1,339 watched the win over Cleveland State.

The Cardinal, who are just 8-8 since the middle of January, finished 10-8 and in seventh place in the Pac-12 this season after starting the season 10-1 and 15-3. They needed six 3-pointers and a career-high 29 points from sophomore Aaron Bright to beat Illinois State.

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“I have not seen many players who have played better than Aaron did tonight,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said after the game.

Carter, who watched the Stanford game Monday night on television, also came away impressed with Bright.

“He is very quick,” the Wolf Pack coach said. “And he’s able to shoot the ball from a very deep range.”

Stanford is a young and deep team but has been very inconsistent this season.

Dawkins, now in his fourth year at Stanford (72-59 record) has used 14 different starting lineups because of injuries and inconsistent play.

Dawkins replaced former Wolf Pack head coach Trent Johnson as Stanford’s head coach in 2008-09. Johnson, now the coach at LSU, was 80-48 in four years at Stanford and left the program after leading the Cardinal to the Sweet 16 in 2007-08.

Dawkins has yet to get the Cardinal to the NCAA Tournament. His first Stanford team went to the College Basketball Insider (CBI) tournament in 2008-09 and finished with a 20-14 record. The Cardinal went 14-18 in 2009-10 and 15-16 in 2010-11 under Dawkins and did not play in the postseason. Their 23 wins is the most since Johnson’s last team in Palo Alto went 28-8.

“The thing about them is that they are very deep,” Carter said. “We have an extra day’s rest but it might not come into play because they are so deep.”

Stanford is also led by freshman guard Chasson Randle. The 6-1 Randle is averaging 13.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists and was named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman team. Bright, a 5-11 point guard, is averaging 11.6 points and 3.6 assists.

“Our guard play has to be better than theirs for us to have a chance to win,” Carter said.

Dwight Powell, a 6-9 sophomore forward, averages 5.7 points and 4.6 rebounds. Josh Huestis, a 6-7 forward, chips in with 5.1 points and 4.6 rebounds and 6-8 center Josh Owens averages 11.6 points and 5.8 rebounds. Sophomore forward Anthony Brown averages 7.8 points and 3.9 rebounds.

“Every game we play is big for our kids,” Dawkins said.

The Wolf Pack (28-6) is just one victory away from equaling the 2006-07 team’s school-record of 29 wins.

“A week ago we were very down and everybody was in tears,” Carter said. “But now we’re still playing and a lot of teams that were celebrating last week are at home. We’re just glad to still be playing with another chance for everyone to see us play.”