Three-game homestand key to Pack’s WAC season
The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team is ready to make a statement.
“We definitely feel we have to get these three home games,” said sophomore guard Malik Story of the three consecutive games at Lawlor Events Center starting Thursday at 7:35 p.m. against the New Mexico State Aggies.
“These are three big games,” said Pack coach David Carter of the pivotal eight-day stretch against the Aggies, Louisiana Tech on Saturday and Fresno State on Jan. 27. “We have to hold serve on our home court.”
New Mexico State, which beat the Wolf Pack 80-79 in the semifinals of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament in Reno last March, has won eight of its last 10 games. The Aggies, 10-9 overall and 4-1 in the WAC, have won their last three games over Fresno State, San Jose State and Hawaii by an average of 18 points.
“We just have to come with the same mindset that we had against Boise,” said Story of the Pack’s 69-67 victory at Boise State last Saturday night.
That mindset gave the Pack (5-13, 2-3) its first victory away from Lawlor this season after 10 consecutive losses. It was also the Pack’s first victory away from Reno since a 74-70 victory at Wichita State in last year’s National Invitation Tournament on March 17.
“We sat around in the hotel after we lost at Idaho (72-67 on Jan. 12) with a feeling of, ‘We’re going to win this next game,” Story said. “That’s all we focused on.”
“We just got tired of losing on the road,” said freshman point guard Deonte Burton who had 23 points against Idaho and 20 against Boise. “It was like, “enough is enough.’ We just really wanted that game.”
The victory over Boise was the Wolf Pack’s first by five points or less this season after losing six in that fashion. Boise shot just 28% (7-of-25) in handing the Pack a 33-28 halftime lead.
“We hadn’t won on the road,” Burton said. “It was like a weight was lifted off our shoulders.”
“After that game it was like, ‘Now I can breathe better,'” Story said. “After that we just feel the next road game we play won’t be as intense. Now we know we can win a close game on the road. That helps our confidence a lot.”
Not all of the Pack’s problems went away by winning at Boise. The Pack turned the ball over 17 times in the victory, their most mistakes since they had 20 against Portland state on Dec. 20, a span of seven games.
“We can’t get complacent,” said Burton, who is averaging 12.6 points a game (15.8 in WAC games). “Our confidence level is up there. And it will only continue to grow the more we keep winning.”
Carter’s Wolf Pack have not won two games in row since it won three in a row last March 4-11. The first victory in that stretch was against New Mexico State (100-92) at Lawlor.
“It’s like I told the team, ‘Yeah, you feel good now after winning on the road. But we felt good after we beat Montana (in the season opener) and then we lost seven games in a row,'” Carter said. “That (Boise) was a big game, But now we have another big game, another hurdle to get past.”
New Mexico State also lost seven in a row this year, falling to New Mexico and Texas-El Paso twice each and USC, Arizona and Massachusetts from Nov. 18-Dec. 11. Now, though, they are as hot as any team in the WAC. Forward Troy Gillenwater (6-foot-8) leads the Aggies in scoring (18.7) and rebounding (7.3). The Aggies also feature guards Hernst LaRoche (11 points, 4.6 assists) and freshman Christian Kabongo (10.4 points).
“They are long and athletic and we’ll have our work cut out for us,” said Carter, who is 26-26 in his two-year career as head coach.