The Bullet Points
- We begin this week's column with Wolf Pack football: making your liver hate you every Saturday in the fall since 1896. With the stakes low, the weather poor and the attendance cringeworthy, at best, Saturday’s inexplicable 38-37 win over Utah State will likely go down as one of the craziest in Mackay Stadium’s history. Nevada trailed the Aggies by at least 13 points on four different occasions, and each time the Pack found a way to hang around and get back into the game to snap its four-game losing streak. In spite of being outplayed in numerous statistical categories, Nevada rode the wave of a bonkers final seven minutes to score touchdowns on a muffed punt and a fourth-and-goal bootleg run with five seconds left to eke out the victory. Barring a sudden dearth of 6-6 teams to fill out bowl tie-ins, postseason play for Nevada will remain out of the question. But for the second year in a row, Senior Day at Mackay was the site of heartbreak and heroics the few fans who stuck around to see it won’t forget.
- I wish I had some pithy words of wisdom about staying until the end of games and always being there for your team. But not a week earlier, I was one of the people eagerly filing out of Mackay in the third quarter of a 30-point blowout loss. Loyalty is great and all, but everyone has their limits. Even in Saturday’s win, I only stuck around as long as I did because the team played juuuuuuust well enough to not completely drive me away. It was the same reason you’d stick around through a terrible movie: you don’t actually expect a great ending to come out of nowhere, so when it happens, you’re pleasantly surprised. Not enough to completely validate the whole experience, mind you, but enough to at least let you walk out of the theater without totally hating yourself. And that’s pretty much how this win looks in the bigger picture of the whole season. It doesn’t change anything with regards to Brian Polian’s future here — at least, ideally, it shouldn’t. Neither team that played at Mackay on Saturday will be eager to remember their respective seasons years from now. It’s a cool story to pass on to your fellow fans, maybe a teeny bit of momentum headed into the final game of the season, and that’s about it.
- Speaking of which, the cannon game is upon us, because God knows your Thanksgiving dinner was shaping up to be a quiet, uneventful snooze-fest, right?. With both teams sitting at 4-7 and all but shut out of the postseason picture, it’s arguably the lowest this game’s stakes have been in quite awhile. But that nagging feeling the Rebels’ football program is currently on a better overall trajectory than that of the good guys is justified. And that’s not including the potential $750 million assist from taxpayers. In all but a handful of games this year, UNLV has looked the part of a team that is more confident, better prepared and better coached than Nevada. What advantages does the Pack have? Momentum, possibly, as well as history, having won their last five consecutive games in Vegas. But much like Schrödinger's cat, history is also not on Nevada's side, in that they have yet to win a single road game in their current season. The looser, more free-wheeling Ty Gangi-led offense gives the Pack a puncher’s chance in this game, one that Tyler Stewart likely couldn’t have given them. But my gut still tells me the Rebels pull out a close one, and Polian’s time in Reno will likely end soon afterward. Preseason prediction: Nevada 42, UNLV 20. New prediction: UNLV 38, Nevada 34.
- Now we move on to Wolf Pack basketball: the best thing to happen to Reno since that game you still rub in the face of every smarmy Boise State fan who ticks you off. The basketball team’s Friday and Sunday wins over Oregon State and Iona were the sweet, sweet cookies in the Oreo sandwich of Wolf Pack Weekend. The first game, in particular, was a great treat to watch, as Nevada answered the question of whether they were still bummed about last year’s loss in Corvallis with an emphatic “Yup.” Stellar efforts abounded as the Pack led by as many as 32 points, with Oliver, Caroline, Fenner and Marshall leading the way. Then, Nevada quickly found themselves in their first double-digit hole at home since the first round of the CBI Tournament, only to outscore Iona by 25 in the second half en route to another win. Keeping the Gaels’ dangerous perimeter shooting in check proved to be the difference, with double-doubles from Foster and Caroline and strong second halves from Oliver and Marshall sparking the Pack.
- At this admittedly early point in the season, almost every problem that cropped up in the Pack’s opening game at Saint Mary’s has been at least partially addressed after a few games. The turnovers have been greatly reduced, the shooting has improved, the scoring load has been sufficiently spread out, and opposing teams’ scoring in the paint hasn’t been as much of a concern. The next things to work on in the coming weeks will be more consistent production from the bench — particularly from the younger players — and to keep hammering away at those damned free throws until more of them start falling. The Great Alaska Shootout provides the opportunity to put all of those improvements to the test in a neutral, tournament-like setting. And unlike last year’s trip to Hawai’i to start the season, Nevada has justifiable confidence to win the entire thing, starting with an opening match with the even faster-paced Golden Grizzlies of Oakland (Michigan, not California). A win in that game could pair the Pack with Buffalo, another NCAA Tournament team from last year, and beyond that lie a couple more in Weber State and (possibly again) Iona.
Under the Rose nevadabeer American-style Pale Ale (Reno, Nevada) ~ Look, I’ve really tried to give Vegas beers a chance in this space. Both of my reviews for the last two UNLV games were from Tenaya Creek, and both of them were — to put it kindly — glorified dishwater. Well, you know the saying about fooling me once and twice, so I’m not taking any chances this year. And just for an additional “Up yours!” to Vegas in the spirit of rivalry week, I’m doing UTR’s nevadabeer. It poured a cloudy golden copper with hardly any head, and smelled faintly of pine and citrus. That citrus continued with the medium-bodied taste, and finished with a piney hop bite. It’s a thoroughly decent pale ale, but I remember it tasting better out of a tap. It definitely had the feel of an older bottle. Even so, it’s still better than anything I’ve had from Tenaya Creek. I give it three tipsy Wolfies out of five.
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