The loss came in the opening round of the new CBI basketball tournament, which ranks a step lower than the NIT tournament and a whole flight of steps lower than the prestigious NCAA tourney.
To Nevada’s credit it had to battle against a phenomenally hot Houston squad, particularly from three-point range. Nevada was also coming off a disappointing semifinal loss in the WAC tournament to New Mexico State, a team it had swept during the regular season.
Although the crowd for Tuesday’s game was one of the smallest of the year, barely cresting 4,000, what it lacked in size it made up for in the noisy support for the home team. One of the reasons for the extra boisterous fans was the fact that the almost church-like silence of the lower seating that has existed for most of the 2007-08 season (high prices made sure they stayed empty) was taken over by the ticket-buying public who outdid the normally complacent season ticket holders. In general, attendance at Lawlor this year for men’s basketball has been well below the average for the past four seasons, when Nick Fazekas was the main attraction. Many reasons have been given for the lack of attendance, chief among them being the fact that the university raised season ticket prices and then gave many of the choice seats to major sponsors.
Another reason was probably the way the year started off with a disappointing loss to arch rival University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Following that, the Pack went on an up-and-down ride for the rest of the season. Losing badly to number one North Carolina early on was not unexpected but it did set an ominous tone for the rest of the year. Although the relatively “green” Nevada squad was picked to finish no better than third or fourth in the WAC it was able to muster enough inspirational wins to finish the regular season in a four-way tie for first place, giving them another WAC championship trophy. In order to finish as well as it did, the Silver and Blue did sweep New Mexico State and Hawaii and split with Utah State, but suffered two embarrassing losses to Boise State (the eventual winner of the WAC tourney and the automatic bid to the NCAA).
What may have been a forecast for the season occurred when Nevada lost its first conference game to San Jose State, one of the bottom feeders in the WAC final standings. Had Nevada prevailed in that game it would have ended up as the standalone champion in the Western Athletic Conference.
Despite the late-season losses, for the most part the past season was a tribute to Nevada coach Mark Fox, who was faced with the loss of four starters and had to craft a winning combination from one remaining veteran (Marcelus Kemp), a talented freshman (Armon Johnson) and several bench players from previous squads. At times the high-scoring Pack looked unbeatable and at other times looked a little lost and distraught, especially when playing aggressive or extremely speedy teams. On balance however, one would have to say the season was a success overall and the outlook for the future extremely bright.
Any analysis of the past season would have to include some strange conclusions on the part of some of the sport writers of the other major daily newspaper in the area. In the first instance a writer said that the Pack had gotten a “bad draw” in the WAC tournament because they were in the bracket with New Mexico State. His rationale was that it was difficult to beat a team three times in one season. All of the knowledgeable basketball fans in the area disagreed with him, since if the Wolf Pack had been in the other half of the bracket they would have had to face Utah State, a team that had beaten them once, or Boise State, a team that had beaten them twice in the regular season. Any coach worth his salt will tell you that basketball is a game of match-ups and that he would prefer to match up with a team he had already soundly beaten twice rather than suit up against a team that had trounced him twice or a team with whom he had split.
The other column in Reno’s other major daily that appeared on last Wednesday was authored by the sports editor, who concluded that the loss to Houston was a perfect ending for the season. Most fans here are still scratching their heads over that conclusion, since the only perfect ending for a basketball team in any division is to be cutting down the nets after a winning championship.
All in all, a good — if not brilliant — season for the Wolf Pack roundballers and the light at the end of the tunnel for next year is probably the flashing smile of Galena High All-American Luke Babbitt, who will be donning the silver and blue as a freshman.
St. Patrick’s Day this year offered a good opportunity to catch a couple of perennial northern Nevada entertainers on cable in a movie called “My Wild Irish Rose” that starred Dennis Morgan and Dennis Day. Both actors were excellent Irish tenors and got to strut their stuff in the movie. Morgan was mostly seen here live in the Sky Room of the Mapes Hotel, while Dennis Day appeared at the Riverside Hotel and John Ascuaga’s Nugget. Morgan was a large, husky Irishman who could stand toe to toe with anyone while Day was a rather smallish individual with an impish Irish sense of humor. He was riding high in the early ’50s because of his regular stint on the Jack Benny Show and I recall him especially since he was my first celebrity interview in 1954.