'Other Nevada' Climbs Out of UNLV Shadow

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Somebody asked one of the Wolf Pack seniors if their Cinderella-like upset of Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament makes Nevada the new Gonzaga.

"I don't know about being the new Gonzaga," Garry Hill-Thomas said. "We're the new Nevada."

The basketball team from the University of Nevada, Reno traditionally has been known as the "other Nevada" - as in, not UNLV.

But the Wolf Pack players say they think they're finally making a name for themselves now that they've knocked off Michigan State and second-seeded Gonzaga to advance to the NCAA's round of 16.

"I definitely think Nevada is known more for UNLV than UNR," said Sean Paul, a senior from Elko who grew up cheering for Jerry Tarkanian's Runnin' Rebels.

"Everywhere we go, they always assume we're from Las Vegas ... I hope now when people say the University of Nevada they think of us instead of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas," Paul said.

Even some of the Wolf Pack players themselves admit they didn't know much about Nevada before they were recruited to play for the school of 15,500 on the edge of the Sierra, a four-hour drive from San Francisco.

"I didn't know it existed, pretty much," said Kevinn Pinkney, a starting junior forward from Colton, Calif.

"I'm not even sure I knew there was a Reno," added Todd Okeson, the Wolf Pack's senior starting point guard from Weskan, Kan.

Hill-Thomas, a senior starter from Oakland, Calif., said it's been a bit frustrating playing in UNLV's shadow.

But "UNLV earned all the credit they deserved. They have been a winning program," he said.

"This is the beginning of a new era for this school and for this program. It's getting off on the right track, our first NCAA tournament (in 19 years), first `Sweet 16,'" Hill-Thomas told reporters at a news conference in Reno on Monday.

"We're trying to make our own name for ourselves."

Nevada (25-8) rides a nine-game winning streak into Friday's game against Georgia Tech (25-9) at St. Louis,

The Wolf Pack are led by Kirk Snyder, a 6-foot-6 junior swingman who averaged 18.7 points per game as the WAC's player of the year and is considering entering the NBA draft early.

Nick Fazekas, a 6-foot-11 freshman, averages 12.8 points and 7.6 rebounds a game while Okeson averages 11.1 points, including 37 percent from 3-point range and 87 percent at the free-throw line.

The school-record 25 wins include victories over four teams that made the NCAA Tournament - Kansas, Vermont, Alabama State and UTEP, twice. They lost to UTEP and two other tourney teams - at then-No. 1 Connecticut and at Pacific.

Okeson said beating Kansas 75-61 in Reno in December was a big boost to the Wolf Pack's confidence after starting the season 2-3. It was a personal victory as well after the Jayhawks ignored him at recruiting time.

"Everybody growing up in Kansas playing basketball wants to go to KU to play," Okeson said.

"It was my dream. But they didn't show no interest in me at all," he said. And now he said he's living a different dream making the NCAA's round of 16 with the Wolf Pack.

"I wouldn't change it for nothing," he said.