LAS VEGAS — Nevada’s thrilling rally in the second half kept the Wolf Pack faithful on the edge of their seats for most of the game Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference Championships in Las Vegas.
Fernley cattle rancher Dave Stix had an aura of confidence after Nevada defeated in-state rival UNLV, 79-74.
Asked if he thought Nevada would come back after trailing by 12 points, Styx smiled and succinctly said, “You betcha.”
Stix and hundreds of Nevada fans are in Las Vegas this week. Many had either flown or drove to Las Vegas earlier in the week to watch the Nevada women advance to today’s championship game against Boise State. Others boarded early morning fights out of Reno Thursday to arrive in time for a pep rally at the Thomas and Mack Center 90 minutes before tipoff. Stix said he watched the women’s game Wednesday night.
“It was a nail biter, exciting and so good,” he said.
Stix said he was confident the Wolf Pack men will win the championship even though guard Lindsey Drew is out for the season because of a ruptured Achilles.
Carson City’s Randy Bowling and his family have attended the MWC championships either at the Thomas and Mack Center or The Orleans since Nevada and Fresno State both joined the conference in 2012.
“There’s general excitement, a lot higher than in the past. It continues to gain,” Bowling said, flanked by his family, and two daughters, both of whom attended Nevada. “It’s also been exciting to see the women do so well.”
The Pack women defeated San Diego State on Monday in overtime followed by a double overtime victory against UNLV on Tuesday and a steady four-point win against Wyoming on Wednesday. The talk before the men’s game focused on the women.
“Coach Amanda (Levens) is doing a great job in her first year,” said Bowling, a University of Nevada grad who moved to Carson City in 1978. “Many of the team members have played during previous years.”
Bowling said the women have generated excitement for Nevada basketball.
“Both programs are building on each other,” he said.
This is the first MWC tournament for Keith and Brenda Boone of Fallon. The adrenalin bug hit the Boones last year when they attended a Nevada-UNLV game in Las Vegas.
“It’s been a great basketball season,” Brenda Boone said prior to the Wolf Pack gathering.
She wants to attend today’s championship game between Nevada and Boise State, but she said Keith made arrangements to play golf.
“It hasn’t been determined yet,” Keith Boone interjected.
They moved to Fallon in 1987 to accept teaching positions at the junior high school (now middle school). The Boones, both with University of Montana ties, had attended Big Sky championship tournaments when Nevada played in the conference. Keith said during those days, they were rooting for the Grizzlies. Now, they’re big Wolf Pack fans.
“We plan to be at the championship game,” Brenda said of the men’s quest to repeat as MWC champions “All the games will be big battles.”
As Nevada fans began to assemble at the Thomas and Mack Center Thursday, Nevada’s Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Doug Knuth had a big simile. His thoughts were still on the women’s three wins and the crowd who attended the games.
“It helped to have early games because many fans came down (to Las Vegas) yesterday,” Knuth said. “The story here, though, is what Amanda Levens has done for the team.”
Former university regent Kevin Melcher, who once represented Churchill County along with other rural counties, and his wife, Ann, are attending their first MWC championships. The Melchers said they enjoyed watching the women and said the team played very consistently against Wyoming.
Kevin Melcher also complimented both the cheerleaders and band for building an exciting atmosphere.
University of Nevada President Dr. Marc Johnson said the tournament has been “fantastic.” He commended Levens for bringing more spirit to the women’s team. Johnson, though, felt confident about the tournament for both the men’s and women’s chances.
“We’re planning to win both of them,” he said.
Former Albuquerque residents Jill and Andy Wallace of Reno rooted for Nevada in the early game and for the New Mexico Lobos in the nightcap.
“We’re big Wolf Pack fans,” said Jill. “We’ve had season tickets for many years. We love our team, and the team has a great bunch of guys, very likeable.”
Their friend Doug Williams drove from Albuquerque to Las Vegas, and he planned to support both teams.
“I’ll change shirts between the two games,” he said with a smile.