Rivalries seem to bring out the best — and sometimes the worst — in coaches, players and fans.
When it comes to bragging rights in the Silver State, there is no love lost between archrivals UNLV and Nevada. Each team looks to exploit the slightest advantage.
Take for instance last season, when Nevada had famed boxing voice Michael Buffer announce the starting lineups when UNLV was in Reno. The Wolf Pack went on to a lopsided 27-point win.
A little more than three weeks ago, UNLV (19-10, 8-8 Mountain West) played perhaps its most complete game of the season and KO’d the host Wolf Pack, without Buffer making an appearance.
The players for No. 21 Nevada (25-5, 14-2) hadn’t even left the court when they already were licking their chops at Wednesday’s rematch at The Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
“They were just talking the whole game and they were really amped up in our home building,” Wolf Pack guard Josh Hall told the Reno Gazette Journal. “I didn’t like that. I’m not going to say anything during the game, but after the game the scoreboard will talk. We’ll see what happens. I’m real excited.”
The Wolf Pack had won 16 straight and had just re-entered the Top 25 when UNLV guard Jovan Mooring scored a career-high 31 points in the win at Reno.
“(The victory) means a lot especially considering the fact they haven’t lost on their home court in a year,” Mooring told the Las Vegas Review-Journal after the game. “I just wanted to get the guys up for this game, and they did a great job of responding.”
Mooring, however, did not practice on Tuesday because of an undisclosed injury; UNLV head coach Marvin Menzies said the senior would be a game-time decision.
If avenging a loss to a hated rival isn’t enough motivation for the Wolf Pack, playing for the outright Mountain West title should help them keep their focus. And despite winning twice last week, Nevada dropped one spot in the Top 25 poll from No. 20 to No. 21.
The bump doesn’t bother Wolf Pack head coach Erik Musselman, not at all.
“We’re going to be ranked the last week of the regular season, which is his hard to do,” he said after the Wolf Pack clinched a share of the Mountain West title and No. 1 seed in the conference tournament with a 92-83 victory over Colorado State on Sunday.
Nevada needs to win one of its two final regular-season games against either UNLV on Wednesday or San Diego State on Saturday. Both road games give the Wolf Pack a chance at avenging home losses.
“We have great respect for (UNLV’s) talent. We have great respect for coach Marvin (Menzies). I think they’re one of the most talented teams in the entire country.”
The Wolf Pack have only seven scholarship players and one, Caleb Martin, missed the home loss to the Rebels.
“Just sitting there watching, I was so irritated, mad,” Martin (19.4 points per game) said of the first game. “It hurt. The good thing is I look back at it and we get a second chance in their building, so I’m really hyped about that.”
The Rebels are coming off a 91-90 lost to New Mexico and have lost three straight. Their talent is undeniable, they’re long, have good size and are athletic.
UNLV dominated the boards in the first game against Nevada and now, with two games left in the regular season, it is playing to get a first-round bye in the Mountain West tournament.
UNLV has the frontline to create problems for Nevada. Brandon McCoy (16.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg) and Shakur Juiston (14.5, 10.0) both average double-doubles.
Juiston went 9-for-11 in the Rebels’ win against the Wolf Pack earlier in the month. McCoy was saddled with foul problems and scored only eight points before fouling out.
“We’ve got to play more poised,” Juiston said before the New Mexico game. “We’ve got to watch all the other teams how they played against us, how poised and how smart they were and how they run their stuff and execute it. As soon as we figure that stuff out, the rest of the season can turn around completely.”