David Carter insists that his Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball team has not quit on the season or lost its will to fight and compete.
"I don't think we've lost our fight," Carter said Friday as his struggling Wolf Pack prepared to take on the UNLV Rebels on Saturday afternoon (1 p.m.) at Lawlor Events Center. "The only game that we didn't seem to have the fight to come back was Boise. We still want to win."
The numbers tell a different story.
The Wolf Pack, 12-15 overall and 3-10 in the Mountain West, has lost four in a row, seven of its last eight and 11 of its last 14. They are headed to the first losing conference seasons wince they went 3-13 in the Western athletic Conference in 2000-01.
The Pack has lost eight Mountain West game by 10 points or less. Even the 2000-01 team only lost five regular season league games by double digits. And now the Pack gets to play a UNLV team that is 21-7, 8-5 and has its sights set on the NCAA Tournament in a couple weeks.
"We're just trying to get any kind of momentum we can," Senior guard Malik Story said. "We're not giving up on the season."
The Wolf Pack is coming off arguably its worst effort of the season, losing 73-47 at Boise State on Wednesday night. The Pack has lost each of the four games in its latest losing streak by an average of 16 points and one of those games went to overtime.
"The intensity and urge is just a lot harder now," junior guard Jerry Evans said.
Story admitted that he has seen his teammates check out of games mentally lately.
"We have not gotten the effort we need in certain games," he said. "We've just let a lot of things go to our heads. We have a tendency to hang our heads. I know myself, I've done it."
Story also said the Pack has lost the will to fight in a lot of games this year.
"We let teams jump on us," he said. "And we don't fight back. We're getting punched in the mouth too much. As a team we get too comfortable and don't fight back. I won't say people have quit but if something goes wrong, we'll put our heads down.
"I'm disappointed we've allowed that to happen. As players, we've let each other down this year."
Saturday's game will be the 75th meeting between the two Nevada schools since the rivalry's first game on Jan. 22, 1962. The Rebels have won 55 of the games (51 of the last 64), including a 66-54 decision on Jan. 29 in Las Vegas.
"We need a big win," Story said.
"It will be good for us to beat the elite teams in the conference," Evans said.
The Wolf Pack is the only school in the nine-team Mountain West that has not beaten at least one of the top four (UNLV, New Mexico, San Diego State and Colorado State) teams in the conference.
UNLV might be the Pack's biggest opportunity for a signature Mountain West victory. UNLV has struggled on the road, going 5-6 and losing to Air Force, Fresno State and Boise State. And their best player, 6-foot-8 freshman Anthony Bennett ((17.0 points, 8.4 rebounds) has been bothered lately by a sore shoulder that limited him to just four minutes in a win at Wyoming last weekend.
"I really want to beat those dudes," Evans said. "That's something that is on my to-do list."
Evans was a freshman at Leuzinger High in Southern California the last time the Pack beat UNLV, 68-61 in Las Vegas on Nov. 26, 2005. The Rebels have won seven in a row against the Pack.
"Their guys like to trash talk a lot in the summer," Evans said. "And that's something I don't really want to hear. I want to go back home in the summer and have something to talk about."
The Wolf Pack, though, knows that it's not about talk right now. It's about getting headed in the right direction before the Mountain West Tournament begins. As things stand now, the Pack is headed to the play-in game on March 12 against Fresno State.
"We're struggling right now," Evans said. "If we can get it together these last two home games (the Pack hosts first-place New Mexico on March 6), maybe we can make some noise in the tournament. We're losing games right now but we can still get back up and accomplish our goals.
"But we have to perform as players. That's the bottom line."