Wolf Pack earns tournament ticket
RENO – In terms of shooting and rebounding, it wasn’t a pretty game for the University of Nevada.
All the Wolf Pack did was beat Idaho.
And thanks to their 73-67 victory Saturday night at Lawlor Events Center, the Wolf Pack vaulted right into the Big West Conference Tournament before a season-high crowd of 7,007.
Nevada (8-19, 6-10 Big West) outscored Idaho 7-2 over the final 1:12 to put the game away and secure the East Division’s No. 3 seed for the conference tournament next week at Lawlor. Nevada, Idaho and Boise State finished tied for third in the division, but the Wolf Pack earned the No. 3 seed on the strength of their season sweep over Boise State.
Nevada won three of its last four regular season games to climb out of the East cellar and grab the tournament invitation. Saturday’s game was won simply on guts, according to coach Trent Johnson.
“We shot 25-for-65 from the field, we were 6-for-26 on our 3-pointers and we got out rebounded by 13. The only way our kids won was by gutting it out,” Nevada’s first-year coach said. “Like I told them, ‘You won because you competed and you believed.’ They showed a lot of heart and a lot of drive.
“To be in this position after being picked to finish last in the division (in both the preseason coaches and media polls), I think that’s a real tribute to these kids.”
That determination showed up when Calvin Criddle turned a partially blocked shot on the offensive end into a layup that broke a 60-60 tie with 5:41 remaining. The Wolf Pack never trailed again.
Nevada was still clinging to a 66-64 lead after Idaho missed two free throws and Johnson called for a 20-second timeout with 2:19 to go.
“I told them to defend and block out and to get a good shot,” Johnson said. “I wanted them to execute on the offensive end, but the main thing was to defend.”
Adrian McCullough pulled up and hit a short jumper to make it 68-64 with 1:12 remaining and then he dished to Richard Stirgus underneath for a layup as Nevada extended its lead to 70-65.
Tommy Zapata finished with 13 points, McCullough 12 and Terrance Green 11 to lead a balanced Nevada attack in which six players contributed eight points or more. Zapata and McCullough also had four assists each.
Devon Ford led Idaho with 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Clifford Gray added 12 points and 11 rebounds. The Vandals out rebounded Nevada, 50-43.
Lance Buoncristiani, a 1999 Galena High School graduate, scored a season-high nine points on a trio of 3-pointers – all in the first half. Buoncristiani, in only his second game back since he underwent an appendectomy 12 days ago, played 26 minutes.
The Big West men’s tournament begins Thursday at Lawlor Events Center. Nevada will open against U.C. Santa Barbara, the second-place team from the West Division. Idaho will open against West Division champion Long Beach State.