“Anybody watching, please come out and support us. We need all the help we can get,” said Nevada’s junior point guard Armon Johnson during an interview with TV cameras prior to the Wolf Pack’s Tuesday afternoon workout.
Johnson and his Nevada
teammates open the Western Athletic Conference Tournament today at 6 p.m. against Idaho. Nevada’s Lawlor Events Center is the tourney’s host site for the annual March event.
Johnson wasn’t the only Pack player asking Reno-area fans to show up in droves.
“Every little bit helps. Bring your kids. Bring your family,” Nevada’s sophomore forward Luke Babbitt pleaded.
The Nevada athletic department seems to be doing its fair share in promoting Wolf Pack pride. Anyone who buys a ticket to tonight’s game has been offered a free whiteout T-shirt and is encouraged to wear it when they attend Nevada’s tourney opener against the Vandals.
Nevada (19-11, 11-5 WAC) is the tournament’s No. 2 seed while Idaho (15-15, 6-10) is No. 7 seed. Both teams seem to have rebounded after hitting a rocky patch on their schedules. The Wolf Pack posted back-to-back home wins last weekend after having lost two of three. Idaho also won its final two games of the regular season, last weekend at home, after dropping three straight.
The two conference clashes this winter were both won by Nevada. The Wolf Pack posted a 76-68 home win on Jan. 16 and then got a three-point play in the waning seconds of the game to cap a come-from-behind 67-66 win at Idaho Feb. 10.
So will the Vandals be filled with thoughts of revenge when they hit the hardwood tonight?
“This is the WAC tournament,” Nevada coach David Carter said. “I think they’ll look at this as a fresh start. I don’t think they’ll use that (previous one-point loss) as motivation.”
Idaho has not been intimated by perennial WAC power Nevada. The Vandals beat Nevada in Reno last winter and then had the two single-digit defeats this season. Pack players are at least preaching that they believe they will have their hands full against the UI crew.
“Idaho plays us tough. They beat us last year on our home floor,” Babbitt said. “They have a good coach and good players. It will be a good challenge.”
This year’s may be the final time a WAC school serves as the host for the conference tournament. Next year the tourney will be played on a neutral court at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
You can bet the Wolf Pack would like to take advantage of its standing as tournament host. Nevada has taken care of business on its home floor all season with one exception. The Pack is 17-1 at Lawlor this winter with its lone loss coming to WAC regular season champion Utah State, 79-72 in OT Jan. 13.
On the flip side, Idaho is just 7-9 on the road this season, including just 2-6 against WAC foes.
“We can’t rely o the fans for their energy … We have to come out with energy,” Carter said of tonight’s tilt. “We have to come out with intensity and give the fans something to cheer about. We have to do our part.”
Nevada’s senior Joey Shaw is among the Pack players who can’t wait to compete in the postseason environment.
“We’re excited. We’re playing well and we’re excited about playing. We’re focused on making it happen. It’s win or go home. You have to put it all out there.”