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Has Nevada turned corner?
by Dan Eckles
Jan 14, 2009 | 775 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photos John Byrne -
Sophomore forward Malik Cooke (above) has been one of Nevada’s most consistent players through the first half of the 2008-09 season.
Tribune photos John Byrne - Sophomore forward Malik Cooke (above) has been one of Nevada’s most consistent players through the first half of the 2008-09 season.
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Considering the Nevada men’s basketball team is just 9-7 on the season, it’s easy to see the Wolf Pack hasn’t exactly been consistent this winter. Nevada, which has won 20 games in each of the past five seasons, has strung together three wins just once during the first half of the season.

That’s not much to get excited about for a team that in the preseason was picked to win its sixth straight Western Athletic Conference championship. However, Nevada may be turning the corner. The Wolf Pack swept two league foes — New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech — on the road last weekend, a rare feat for a young team.

“It was very important,” Nevada’s sophomore forward Malik Cooke said. “This past weekend’s games were a confidence boost for all the fellas. We’re ready to play now and get it going for the rest of the season.”

Nevada will need to keep it going as it continues WAC play with a pair of conference clashes at home this weekend — against Boise State Thursday and Fresno State Saturday. Tipoff for both games is set for 7:05 p.m.

The Wolf Pack is eager to get back on the winning track on its home floor after dropping its last two at Lawlor Events Center to North Carolina and Idaho.

“We always want to protect our home court. That’s real important for us,” Nevada’s freshman forward Luke Babbitt said. “But, we’ll take it one game at a time and try to take care of business Thursday.

“Everyone’s excited (after sweeping on the road) because that’s important. But you don’t want to get too high after wins or too down after losses.”

Nevada opens its three-game WAC homestand against a Boise state team that is riding high. The Broncos bring a six-game winning streak to Reno. In addition, the BSU crew sits 12-3 overall and 3-0 in the WAC. Still, the defending WAC tournament champions have been aided by a kind schedule that’s seen them play 10 of their 15 games at home.

“We’re going to play a very good basketball team and a team that understands how to win,” Nevada coach Mark Fox said. “We accomplished what we wanted to (last weekend), which was win two games … but just because we swept the trip down there, doesn’t mean we accomplished anything. It does allow us to feel better about ourselves.”

What a difference a week can make. Nevada players and coaches weren’t feeling too good after dropping their WAC opener at home to Idaho, a school that has made the WAC doormat its home in recent years.

“Each game is independent of the others. We’re so young, there’s going to be ups and downs,” Fox said. “Last week we had some ups and before that some downs. Hopefully, at the end of the year, we’ll be playing for something.”

Nevada has won 13 of the last 17 meetings against Boise State, but the Broncos captured victories in both of the meetings between the long-time rivals last season. BSU’s 95-80 win in Reno last January snapped Nevada’s four-game winning streak against Boise State.

The Broncos dropped Hawaii and San Jose State in conference tilts in Boise last weekend and went to the islands to knock off Hawaii on its home floor the previous weekend. Nevada and Boise State’s success on the road is not a fluke. In fact, home teams are just 5-10 in league affairs so far this winter.

“We’ve had a lot of success both at home and on the road in previous years,” Fox said. “It’s important to win in both places (home and away). I think there is a lot of parity in the league. Maybe we’ll see less difference between home and away records.”

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