Pivotal road game awaits Pack men | NevadaAppeal.com

Pivotal road game awaits Pack men

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal

Not much has changed for the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team in the last month.

The Pack faces a pivotal game at Idaho today (8:05 p.m., ESPN2) after a disappointing loss at Utah State last Saturday night.

The scenario was exactly the same a month ago. The Pack faced a must-win game against Idaho at Lawlor Events Center on Jan. 16 after a heartbreaking loss to Utah State at home three nights earlier.

Everything turned out just fine for the Pack a month ago.

“That was a good bounce-back win,” said Wolf Pack sophomore Luke Babbitt of Nevada’s 76-68 victory over Idaho on Jan. 16. “We had to have that one.”

The Pack, 13-9 overall and 5-4 in the Western Athletic Conference, also has to win Wednesday night’s contest, but this time it might be a bit more difficult. This game, after all, is on the road, where the Pack is just 3-8 this year.

The Pack is also not playing its best basketball right now. The Wolf Pack heads to Moscow coming off two losses in its last three games. The Vandals, on the other hand, have won three of four to improve to 11-11 overall and 3-7 in the WAC. Their latest conquest was an impressive 79-55 victory at Boise State last Saturday.

Idaho, though, is where the Wolf Pack always goes to wipe away the sting of a tough loss. The Pack won at Idaho last year (69-65) after losing at Utah State two nights earlier and the Pack won at Idaho two years ago (85-72) after losing at Boise State two nights earlier.

Idaho, it seems, always leaves the Pack feeling good about itself. The Pack, after all, has won its last four games in Moscow and 11 of its last 12 games overall against the Vandals.

The Pack, though, will not take anything for granted this time around.

“This team will not overlook anyone,” Pack coach David Carter said.

A bounce-back victory on Wednesday is just as important as it was a month ago. Just eight games remain in the regular season and the Pack would like nothing better than to be on a roll heading into the WAC tournament in March at Lawlor.

“As we know, winning on the road is never easy,” Carter has said repeatedly this year.

The Wolf Pack beat Idaho at home last month despite spotting the Vandals an early 10-point lead. The Pack won by sharing the ball as four players finished with 10 or more points: Babbitt with 19, Armon Johnson with 17, Joey Shaw with 15 and Brandon Fields with 14.

Idaho was led by guards Mac Hopson with 16 points and Steffan Johnson with 13. Hopson, who battled foul trouble in Reno, leads Idaho in scoring this year at 14.5 points a game. He also averages 5.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists a game.

“Like all players, his foul trouble hurt his aggressiveness (in Reno last month),” Carter said.

The Vandals, though, feature a deep roster that includes guard Kashif Watson, the brother of Golden State Warriors’ guard C.J. Watson. Watson, a Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) graduate, is averaging 11 points a game this year. Johnson averages 10.9 points a game and Luiz Toledo chips in with 8.8 a night.

Luciano DeSouza, who hit four 3-pointers against Boise, had eight points and eight rebounds against the Pack in January. Marvin Jefferson, a 6-foot-9 center, averages 8.5 points and 5.9 rebounds a game.

One area the Pack needs to concern itself about against Idaho is rebounding. Idaho won the battle of the boards against the Pack, 36-29, in January. The Pack also allowed 21 offensive rebounds in the loss to Utah State and has been outrebounded 36.1-34.8 in its nine WAC games.

The Wolf Pack also might be in need of a second wind, averaging just 69.3 points a game over its last three outings after averaging 78 points over its first 20 games.

“We thought there was a chance they could tire by the end of the game,” Utah State center Tai Wesley told the Salt Lake Tribune after beating the Pack.

The Pack is also relying on Babbitt now more than ever. The 6-foot-9 forward has led the Pack in scoring in 12 of the last 14 games and in rebounding in 17 of the last 21 games. The Galena High graduate has scored at least 19 points with at least nine rebounds in each of the last nine games.

Babbitt had 20 points against Utah State.

“Babbitt’s a stud,” Utah State’s Brady Jardine told the Salt Lake Tribune. “We wanted to double him in the low post and not let him get good looks at the basket. It was a team effort. I couldn’t guard him by myself.”