The Bullet Points
- We begin with the basketball team’s successful, if maddeningly hair-pulling, excursion to Las Vegas. Their first win came against Towson 81-72 in front of an announced crowd (218) only slightly bigger than the game’s combined score. Nevada took it to the Tigers in the areas they had to — drawing fouls and rebounding — in order to overcome 23 turnovers. The effort was started off by Josh Hall (15 points, including the Pack’s first 7 of the game), then continued by Cameron Oliver (17 points, 13 rebounds) and Jordan Caroline (14 points, 9 rebounds) before being finished by Marcus Marshall (17 points, all in the second half). For all of its flaws, it was still a pretty good effort against a pretty good team, which is much more than can be said for their slithering past UC Santa Barbara not 24 hours later. Falling behind by as many as 12 points to a squad that has yet to beat a single D-I team this season, the Pack went on just enough runs to retake the lead when it mattered, but not quite enough to ever put the game out of reach. Barely perceptible through the stench of 17 missed free throws were more standout performances from Caroline and Marshall, as well as a mostly excellent defensive second half that saw the Pack hold the Gauchos to 24% shooting.
- The question that could never be answered over those two games, however, was why such a lockdown was necessary in the first place. Whether the team was battling the flu, as some have speculated, their performance still reminds us of just how perilous their road ahead remains. It may not have been coincidence that Thursday’s performance came after an Ed Graney column in the Las Vegas Review-Journal gave the stink eye to the Pack’s at-large chances. He’s right in pointing out the similarities between last year’s San Diego State team and this year’s Nevada team, particularly when compared to the rest of the league’s continued struggles. Having fewer overall losses and signature wins than the Aztecs did at this point puts the Pack in no better position than their counterparts, no matter how well they’ve performed against the schedule they were dealt. SDSU infamously went 16-2 in conference play, lost the conference tournament title game and still missed out on the NCAA Tournament last year, serving as a very real example of what could happen to this year’s Wolf Pack.
- Nevada fans won’t have to wait long to find out if their team is capable and/or worthy of running the Mountain West table. They’ll start off with a greatly improved San Jose State team, and at 7-4, just seeing the Spartans in any position other than last place at the start of conference play is a sign of tangible progress for them. True, it should technically be 5-4, with a couple of those wins coming against non-NCAA teams, but they’ve also won several of the kinds of games they would’ve easily lost a few years ago. This includes a road win over a Pac-12 team, something only three of their peers (Nevada, Fresno State and Colorado State) can also boast this season. Next, the Pack have a New Year’s Eve date at the Save Mart Center, a venue which has not been kind to them lately. Even against a soft schedule, it still took a few weeks for the Bulldogs to get their sea legs, but they’ve been playing better in December. While Fresno has taken a step back and Nevada has taken a step forward since last year, whether Eric Musselman continues to struggle against the Bulldogs’ overall style of play remains to be seen. Nevada did get a bit of good news when it was revealed that Fresno’s best recruit of their most recent class will not be joining the team this year after all. Beyond them lie even bigger tilts with the Aztecs, Lobos and Cowboys, but for this week, I’m envisioning a decent home win followed by a close road win.
North Coast Old Rasputin Nitro Stout (Fort Bragg, California) ~ In music, a good remix can be a tricky thing to pull off. You want to maintain enough of the original to help people recognize it, but also explore cool new directions in sound. Such it is with beer as well, and doubly so with one like Old Rasputin, maybe my personal favorite beer of all time. Carbonating a beer with nitrogen (turning it “nitro”) tends to give it a thicker, creamier feel in the mouth, dull some of its stronger flavors, and produce a massive, bubbly head that takes a long time to dissipate. And while a pint of Guinness will give you that hypnotic cascade of bubbles in the glass, this one didn’t produce the same effect. Nonetheless, its tan head was impressive, and smells of coffee, roasted malt and chocolate greeted my nose. They gave way to a smooth, chocolatey coffee taste that thankfully maintained some of the hop bite of the original. It finished modestly bitter, a little bit like stout-flavored whipped cream. Even though I missed some of my favorite, subtler flavors of the original — bready yeast, dark fruits, toffee and black licorice — it strikes that good remix balance so often botched. I still slightly prefer the original, but I definitely wouldn’t pass up another glass of this, either. I give it four and a half tipsy Wolfies out of five.
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