The Bullet Points
- In the wake of their second facepalm-worthy loss at the hands of Fresno State, Nevada players found themselves challenged by their coaches, their fans, and their own expectations. They answered those challenges in grand, two-part fashion, first by dispatching Boise State 76-57. Cam Oliver seemingly set the tone for what was to come with three blocks in the game’s first five minutes, and the rest of his teammates showed a level of focus that pleased their coaches. After their halftime lead was cut to three, Marcus Marshall and D.J. Fenner used a flurry of three-pointers to put the kibosh on any hopes of a Bronco rally. It was a performance that would stand as the team’s most complete and impressive effort of the season…for two and a half days. The Pack showed they were not, in fact, content to rest on one stellar performance, and pulled away from New Mexico in similarly convincing fashion 82-65. In a lesson learned from their first encounter, the Lobos held Marcus Marshall to 13 points, but he was able to get his teammates more involved to the tune of 8 assists. Forcing 17 turnovers and making six more three pointers than New Mexico, Nevada rode the twin waves of Cam Oliver and another large home crowd to victory and a solo perch atop the Mountain West.
- People were right to question — or at least be skeptical of — the Pack after they were swept by a mediocre Bulldog team. But if doubts percolated to the surface after the struggles of last week, they were plainly silenced almost immediately afterwards with much more at stake. Yeah, Fresno’s loss at Utah State — the Pack’s next opponent on deck — was a head-scratcher. But such is life in the Mountain West: no gimme games, no guarantees, and weaknesses exploited like rock-paper-scissors every week. At the halfway point of conference play, the biggest challenge remaining for Nevada is not getting overly excited for what is clearly a favorable nine-game stretch. It includes four games against spotty Aggie and Rebel teams, and follow-ups at Air Force and San Jose State. Even that trip to San Diego and those home dates with the Broncos and Rams — the latter coming on Senior Day — are not wholly unreasonable match-ups. They can potentially ride out these next few weeks from atop the league, watching everyone below them cannibalize each other and sort out the logjams near the top and bottom of the standings.
- Mired in the latter of those logjams is Utah State, a program that used to give Nevada fits when both teams were in the WAC, but now struggles to tread water in the Mountain West. Once feared throughout the country, the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum is not nearly as intimidating a place to play as it used to be. In their eight seasons in the WAC, Utah State went 126-13 at the Spectrum, including a ridiculous five straight seasons with 17 home wins, three of which were unblemished by losses. Since moving up, however, they’ve been a decent but much less impressive 40-20 at home. And looking at the stats for the two teams, they don’t look nearly as different as you might expect first- and last-place teams to look. Their scoring defenses, field goal percentages, free throw percentages, field goal percentage defenses and three point shooting percentages are all pretty close to one another. The biggest difference has been scoring margin: the Wolf Pack have had a much easier time outscoring their opponents (+8.0 points per game) than the Aggies have (+0.7 points per game). I’m still expecting the Pack to win this one — they’re more battle-tested and better coached than the home team. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if they get more than they bargained for and eke out a close one. Maybe another Boys & Girls Club bus ride is the answer?
IMBIB Barrel Aged Buckwheat Braggot (Reno, Nevada) ~ We’re doing an alliterative beer this week, because life as a Pack fan is good right now, IMBIB is one of Reno’s hidden gems, and why the heck not? A braggot is a type of mead brewed with barley and honey (but often without hops), and whose origins go back centuries. This particular version is made from 60% barley and 40% buckwheat honey, with sour brettanomyces yeast (“brett” for short) AND a spell in a Jim Beam bourbon barrel thrown in for good measure. It's about as far from a backyard Bud Light as you can get. It poured dark brown with minimal head, smelling faintly of bourbon. The taste is truly unlike anything else out there, with the bourbon, brett yeast and honey all intermingling together in a wholly unique way that still finished cleanly. Everything was mild, but not unmemorable — no one taste overpowered the others. It’s a niche beer that carved out an extremely specific niche for itself, and doesn’t apologize for it. Like most of IMBIB’s beers, it’s a one-off creation that probably won’t be seen again unless it gains a popular following. So if you can’t stop by their 2nd Street taproom soon to try it, don’t sweat. Chances are good that they’ll have something else just as cool — either in the present or the near future — that fits your own personal taste. As for me, I give it four tipsy Wolfies out of five.
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