WAC: Nevada men in do-or-die situation in Las Vegas | NevadaAppeal.com

WAC: Nevada men in do-or-die situation in Las Vegas

JOE SANTORO
For the Nevada Appeal

RENO – The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team cannot afford to lose another game this season.

“We have to win the tournament or our season is over,” said head coach David Carter of the Western Athletic Conference tournament which begins this afternoon in Las Vegas at The Orleans.

That means no National Invitation Tournament or College Basketball Invitational for the Pack this year. The Pack, which brings a 12-18 record to Las Vegas, played in the NIT last year and the CBI in both 2008 and 2009.

That leaves the NCAA Tournament as the Pack’s only chance at playing in the postseason this year. And winning the WAC Tournament requires a grueling four victories in four days.

“It’s very difficult,” said Carter, whose Wolf Pack will meet Fresno State (14-16) at 2:30 p.m. (94.5 FM, 630-AM, no television) today. “You have to have depth and you have to get lucky.”

Depth and luck are two things this struggling Wolf Pack team hasn’t had much of this season. The Pack heads to Las Vegas having lost four of its last five WAC games.

“It’s a long season,” Carter said. “We had a lot of guys in their first season. It was natural for them to hit a wall sometime this season.”

The Wolf Pack split its two games with Fresno State this year with each team winning on its home court. The Pack lost at Fresno, 80-74, on Jan. 3 and returned the favor at Lawlor Events Center, 79-76, on Jan. 27.

“They have been a tough matchup for us the last couple years,” Carter said. “We have to do a good job of controlling the big guy.”

The big guy is Fresno’s 6-foot-10 sophomore center Greg Smith. Smith is averaging 11.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks a game. He had 15 points and nine rebounds against the Pack in Fresno and 18 points and 10 rebounds in Reno.

“Turnovers hurt us in the first game,” Carter said. “In the second game we controlled the backboards a little bit and did a nice job on Greg Smith.”

Fresno State has had trouble scoring this year, averaging just 67.2 points a game (eighth in the nine-team WAC). The Bulldogs also struggle at the free throw line (ninth in the WAC at .626) and from 3-point range (ninth at .293).

The winner of the Pack-Fresno game will meet New Mexico State (15-16) on Thursday (2:30 p.m., ESPNU). The winner of that game will meet Boise State (19-11) in the semifinals on Friday night (9 p.m., ESPN2) for the right to play in the championship game on Saturday night (7 p.m., ESPN2).

Hawaii (18-11) will meet San Jose State (15-14) on the other side of the bracket. The Hawaii-San Jose State winner will face Idaho at noon (ESPNU) on Thursday in the quarterfinals with the winner of that game meeting Utah State in the semifinals on Friday (6 p.m., no television).

“We’ve had two good days of practice,” Carter said. “I like our energy. The guys are excited. This is all new for them. It’s almost like a new season.”

Utah State, which won the regular season WAC title at 15-1 (28-3 overall) is the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament this week.

Carter, whose Wolf Pack is 3-13 away from home this year, said the Aggies should go to the NCAA Tournament win or lose this week.

“I would think so,” Carter said. “When you win your league you should go. They’ve had a great season. They don’t have any bad losses. I think this is his (Utah State coach Stew Morrill’s) best team he’s had there. They don’t have any weaknesses.”

Carter, though, said the Aggies can be beaten this week.

“They have a huge advantage,” Carter said. “They only have to win two games. They’ll be rested. But they can be beat. All you have to do is beat them on one good night and be better than them on just one day. But Utah State won’t beat themselves. You have to go out and beat them.”

Carter said he likes the new WAC Tournament format (with teams getting byes) and the fact that the tournament is on a neutral court. The Wolf Pack hosted the WAC Tournament in each of the last two years but failed to win a championship.

It was the WAC coaches who requested a neutral site for the tournament.

“There’s a lot of pressure to win when its your floor,” Carter said. “And if you do win, everybody else just says, ‘Well, they won because it was on their floor.’ This way there are no excuses.”