Following a 78-73 loss to Idaho in its conference opener Saturday, the five-time defending Western Athletic Conference champion Nevada Wolf Pack (7-7, 0-1 WAC) continues WAC play on the road this week, traveling to New Mexico State (8-7, 2-0) on Thursday, Jan. 8.
Nevada heads into Thursday’s game at New Mexico State looking to snap its second two-game losing streak of the season and to pick up its first WAC win of the year. Following Thursday’s game at NMSU, Nevada continues the road trip and travels to Ruston, La., to take on Louisiana Tech on Saturday, Jan. 10. Nevada returns home next week, starting a three-game homestand with Boise State on Thursday, Jan. 15.
Under the direction of fifth-year head coach Mark Fox, the Wolf Pack returned two starters and a total of seven letterwinners from last year’s 21-12 team, including the coaches’ preseason WAC Player of the Year Armon Johnson who started 32 of 33 games last season as a true freshman.
This year’s team also features five new faces (a junior college transfer and four true freshmen). Last season, Nevada turned in its fifth consecutive year with at least 20 wins, won its fifth straight WAC regular-season title and earned the team’s six consecutive postseason appearance with an invitation to the inaugural College Basketball Invitational.
NEVADA IN WAC OPENERS
Including Saturday’s loss to Idaho, Nevada now holds a 4-5 record in Western Athletic Conference openers and has won four of its last seven. This season marked just the third time in the last nine years that Nevada opened conference play at home since joining the league in 2000-01.
Last year, Nevada was originally set to open WAC play at home on Jan. 5, 2008 vs. Utah State but saw that game postponed due to inclement weather in Reno. Instead, the Wolf Pack dropped a 62-60 decision at San Jose State on Jan. 10 after a nine-day stretch without a game. After that loss, the Wolf Pack won its next two WAC games and five of its first seven en route to a 12-4 league mark and a share of its fifth consecutive WAC regular-season championship.
In 2006-07, Nevada won its first five WAC homes and 14 of its first 15 en route to a 14-2 mark and its fourth consecutive WAC regular-season title. In 2005-06, the team opened league play with a 3-3 mark but won its final 10 WAC games to finish with a 13-3 conference mark and its third consecutive WAC championship.
In 2004-05, Nevada opened WAC play with four straight victories and won seven of its first eight league games en route to a WAC-record 16-2 overall mark and sole possession of the WAC championship.
The team also won a share of the league title in 2003-04, tying for first with UTEP with a 13-5 mark.
ON THE ROAD
Nevada has won 29 of its last 47 games away from the friendly confines of Lawlor Events Center, including 24 road wins and five neutral-site victories (dating back to midway through the 2005-06 season). In 2006-07, the team turned in a 14-4 record away from home, including a 10-2 road mark and a 4-2 record in neutral-site games.
The Wolf Pack has won 12 of its last 24 regular-season road contests and 23 of its last 36 and turned in a 7-9 road mark last season (2-3 this year). In 2006-07, the team saw an 11-game regular-season road winning streak snapped with a Jan. 20, 2007 loss at New Mexico State. Prior to that, the team had not dropped a road contest since falling at Fresno State on Jan. 18, 2006.
In the last five seasons since the start of the 2004-05 campaign, the Wolf Pack has tallied a 40-19 record in road contests (.678 winning percentage). That includes a 26-8 record in WAC road games (.765).
ABOUT THE NEW MEXICO STATE AGGIES
New Mexico State brings an 8-7 overall mark and a 2-0 WAC record into Thursday’s game with Nevada. The Aggies won their first two WAC contests, turning in a 79-66 victory at Fresno State on Saturday and a 75-73 win at San Jose State on Monday.
Under the direction of second-year head coach Marvin Menzies (29-21 record at NMSU), the Aggies returned one starter and four letterwinners from last year’s 21-14 team. New Mexico State finished in the four-way tie for first in the WAC last season with a 12-4 league mark.
Sophomore guard Jahmar Young (6-4, 160) is leading NMSU and ranked second in the WAC in scoring with 17.7 points per game, including a game-high 25 points in Saturday’s win at Fresno State. Junior guard Jonathan Gibson (6-2, 180) is second on the squad with 14.6 points per contest, while sophomore forward Wendell McKines (6-6, 224) is adding 13.8 points per game. McKines is leading the WAC with 9.1 rebounds per game this year. Young and Gibson also rank among the league’s best three-point shooters with Young knocking 44.7 percent of his three-point attempts (34-76) and Gibson at 42.5 percent (34-80).
As a team, New Mexico State is leading the WAC in scoring (78.5 points per game) and three-point field goal percentage (.410). The Aggies also check in at seventh in the nation in three-point percentage.
IN THE SERIES
New Mexico State leads the all-time series with Nevada 15-11, while the Wolf Pack has won three of the last four games in the series. The Wolf Pack won two of the three meetings with the Aggies last season, turning in an 87-78 victory on Jan. 24 in Las Cruces and a 98-85 win on Feb. 28 in Reno before falling to NMSU 83-75 on March 14 in the semifinals of the 2008 WAC Tournament, also in Las Cruces.
Nevada has won two of the last four meetings between the two teams in NMSU’s Pan American Center.
LAST TIME OUT
Mac Hopson and Luciano de Souza each scored 16 points as the Idaho Vandals turned back the Nevada Wolf Pack 78-73 Saturday night in the WAC opener for both teams. Kashif Watson added 13 points as Idaho snapped a nine-game losing streak to Nevada.
Nevada was led by junior Brandon Fields' 19 points. Sophomore Malik Cooke added a career-best 17 for the Wolf Pack.
Idaho trailed 65-62 with 2:48 to play after a three-point play by Cooke. Hopson then drove the lane for a bucket and Watson hit a pair of free throws and a short jumper in the lane for a 66-65 Idaho lead with 1:53 to go.
De Souza had a dunk for a 71-65 Idaho lead with 31 seconds to play.
Idaho led 35-33 at halftime. De Souza led Idaho with 11 points at halftime on the strength of three 3-pointers.
Marvin Jefferson scored eight points inside and De Souza hit a 3-pointer as the Vandals jumped out to a 15-3 lead six minutes into the game. Fields scored 10 of Nevada's first 14 points to keep the game close early.