The Bullet Points
- For the second time this season, Air Force happened to catch the Nevada basketball team at a time when they were freshly disappointed, and for the second time the Pack responded to their setback by methodically picking apart the Falcons. While offense was the name of the game at the Academy, this time around Nevada did it with solid defense, holding Air Force to 52 points in the wire-to-wire victory. Even when being careless with the ball — Nevada finished the game with 16 turnovers and only forced 9 from the Falcons — the outcome was never in serious doubt.
- And I end that paragraph on the note of turnovers because it continued into Saturday, with the Pack adding another 19 of them to the week’s total against an undermanned but still totally game Fresno State team. Ten of those giveaways came in the first 11 minutes during an especially bad stretch, and the second half included a 13-point lead the Pack took all of 190 seconds to give right back to Fresno. And yet, in spite of all of those demerits, they found a way to win, and there was legitimate greatness on display from the home team. More specifically, it was in the form of Cameron Oliver reaching the very ceiling of Lawlor Events Center to corral shot after shot. His 24 rebounds — my head is still shaking just typing that out — set a new Mountain West Conference record, and accompanied 20 equally big and important points scored. His mother was there to see it all, reinforcing my belief the athletic department should pay for their players’ families to attend as many games as possible. A win is a win, and they remain in the mix of the top half of the standings, but Nevada had better hope they can avoid the Bulldogs in the conference tournament.
- Now the team heads into a pair of differently challenging but still entirely winnable road games at San Jose State and UNLV. The first half of the road swing comes against a Spartan team playing with a semblance of real confidence for the first time in years, having already surpassed their conference win total of the last two seasons combined. It’s also being played in a mausoleum disguised as an arena, on a court that has to rank as one of the most poorly designed at any level of play anywhere. Seriously, it’s like a teenage graphic designer watched the movie “300,” checked off every single option available for customizing a basketball court and called it a day. Next on the docket is a check-in with UNLV, the Mountain West’s favorite dysfunctional program and aspiring reality show. Ben Carter and Stephen Zimmerman Jr. are done for the year, potentially paving the way for the second sweep of the Rubbles in three seasons. Here’s hoping Oliver makes like Luke Skywalker on the Death Star trench run and uses the Force…of several rim-rattling dunks to help make it happen.
- Wolf Pack baseball’s season begins on Friday afternoon with a double header against Northwestern in Mesa, Arizona as part of a four-game series. If you want to know what former coach Jay Johnson has done for baseball at Nevada, this paragraph is Exhibit A. I’m talking about college baseball in this column. In February. When the team’s first home game isn’t until next month. While it does technically make me a bandwagon fan to do so, this is how a base of fan support gets built. Think of it more like “new fan orientation.”
- With all of that said, Johnson is gone and T.J. Bruce will take his turn leading the baseball program. He’ll do so with a team very different from the one that earned the school its first Mountain West title last year. Gone are Austin Byler, Kewby Meyer, Ryan Howell, Cal Stevenson, Jordan Devencenzi and Kyle Hunt, along with a significant chunk of the Pack’s home runs, RBIs and hits. The team will go from averaging 8 runs a game to relying on pitching and defense for their wins, and they have reason to be optimistic there. Last season’s pitcher of the year Christian Stolo, player of the year Trenton Brooks (a capable pitcher in his own right), Cameron Rowland, Evan McMahan and Michael Fain all return to lead a pitching staff that’s still fairly deep, even without Adam Whitt or JoJo Romero. They won’t be favored to repeat as regular season champions — that looks to be San Diego State or maybe New Mexico right now — but if the pitching is as good as advertised, they’ll at least be in the mix throughout the season.
- Finally, consider a partial season ticket plan to come out to Peccole and check out a program on the rise. They start at $28 for four games or $46 for eight games, and it’s a fun way to spend an afternoon or evening. St. John's and San Diego State both reached the NCAA Tournament last year, while New Mexico and UNLV will also be great series. Just be sure to bundle up for the March and April games — this is still spring in northern Nevada, after all.
Stone Pataskala Red X IPA (Escondido, California) ~ I knew a guy in high school who used to wear a t-shirt that said “My friends will follow me anywhere, but only out of morbid curiosity.” Thankfully, he was a much funnier guy — and better person — than his choice of clothing would have you believe. Stone Brewing is the beer version of that shirt’s sentiment: their track record isn’t perfect, but damned if they don’t brew stuff you always look forward to trying out. Their latest mad scientist concoction is a red IPA brewed with an experimental German malt ominously called Red X, and was named after the Ohio hometown of company CEO Greg Koch. It poured a clear copper red with a nice head, and the smell was all citrus from the Mosaic, Cascade and Amarillo hops. The taste was hoppy citrus, with some toffee, caramel and bread notes from the malt on the back end and a sweet finish. It’s a kind of IPA/amber ale hybrid, with a nice blending of hops and malt into something that will equally please fans of both styles. Add another one to Stone’s long list of successful brewing experiments. I give it four tipsy Wolfies out of five.
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