Malik Story cannot think of a better farewell gift to the Nevada Wolf Pack basketball fans than a victory over the New Mexico Lobos on Wednesday night at Lawlor Events Center.
"That would be the best thing," said Story, who will be honored along with fellow senior Keith Fuetsch during the Wolf Pack's Senior Night festivities on Wednesday (7 p.m.). "It will be great knowing we went out with a big win, especially on my last night here."
The Wolf Pack, losers of five in a row, eight of their last nine and 12 of their last 15, will host the No. 12 ranked Lobos in their final home game of the season. The Pack is currently last in the Mountain West at 12-15 overall and 3-11 in conference and is just 2-5 at home since Dec. 28. New Mexico has already clinched the Mountain West regular season championship at 25-4, 12-2.
"They are very balanced," Pack coach David Carter said. "They can play big or small and play different styles. And they know how to win."
The Wolf Pack lost to the Lobos, 75-62, in Albuquerque on Feb. 2 in the first-ever meeting between the two history-filled basketball programs. Nevada is in its 100th year and New Mexico is in year No. 110.
"It's going to be exciting to play a Top 25 team on my Senior Night," said Fuetsch, who will get the first start of his career on Wednesday. "Hopefully we can knock them off."
The Wolf Pack has lost its last three games by 13 (88-75 to San Diego State), 26 (73-47 to Boise State) and 17 points (80-63 to UNLV). Of their 11 Mountain West losses, nine have come by 10 points or more. New Mexico, which has now won the Mountain West regular season title in four of the last five seasons, has only lost to South Dakota State (70-65), St. Louis (60-46), UNLV (64-55) and San Diego State (52-34) this season.
The Lobos are arguably the deepest team in the Mountain West.
They are led by Kendall Williams (13.9 points, 4.6 assists), Alex Kirk (12.0 points, 8.0 rebounds) and Tony Snell (11.4 points). But they also have productive role players in Cameron Bairstow (8.9 points, 5.4 rebounds), Hugh Greenwood (7.4 points, 5.1 rebounds), Demetrius Walker (5.0 points), Chad Adams (4.7 points, 3.3 rebounds) and Jamal Fenton (3.8 points).
"We got to play a perfect game," Carter said.
The Wolf Pack played about as well as it can in the 13-point loss to the Lobos in early February. Story led the Pack with 20 points and he was joined in double figures by teammates Deonte Burton and Jordan Burris. The Pack was 10-of-26 on 3-pointers and out-rebounded the Lobos 33-29.
"After that game I thought we were headed in the right direction," Carter said. "That was one of our better games of the season, especially on the road in a tough environment."
Carter is now just looking for any sort of momentum heading into the Mountain West tournament which opens March 12 in Las Vegas. The Pack will close out the regular season at Colorado State on Saturday.
"It is very important to play well these last two games," he said.
Carter said he will start normal starters Story, Burton, Jerry Evans and Kevin Panzer along with Fuetsch against the Lobos. Fuetsch, a Bishop Manogue High graduate, has only played in 11 games this year for a total of 64 minutes and is averaging just under a point (0.9) a game.
"It's going to be a little sad but it's also going to be exciting," the 6-foot Fuetsch said. "It seems like yesterday I was just starting out here as a freshman. The time has flown by."
Story is the Wolf Pack's all-time leading 3-point shooter with more 3-pointers (241) and 3-point attempts (626) than anyone in school history. He is also 10th on the Pack's career scoring list with 1,417 points.
"It means a lot to me to have been able to put my stamp on the program," Story said. "It's an amazing feeling knowing that no matter where I go from here, I can always call Nevada home."