The Bullet Points
- Nevada needed to win three games in three days to reach the postseason they sought, and they started on Thursday with an 83-69 win over Utah State. Oliver and Caroline helped the Pack get off to a fast start, while Leland King came off the bench with style as Nevada got a relatively relaxed win to advance to the semifinals. There, they were paired with Rodney “No credit” Terry and his Bulldogs, and a frustrating first half gave way to an ecstatic second half to the tune of 83-72. An astounding 79.2% shooting performance in the second half, coupled with a 25-2 run, added another chapter to the Cardiac Pack’s still-growing reputation. That set up one more tilt with Colorado State for the tournament title, and the final score once again favored the Pack. Nevada’s roller coaster of a tournament concluded with a ragged, nerve-wracking second half that followed a strong first half, with Hall’s continued emergence and Caroline’s MVP-worthy finish the headlines of the day.
- I’m saving the big picture perspective for another time because (hopefully) there’s still plenty of basketball left to be played this season. Instead, I’ll recap my time at the Mountain West Tournament screaming myself hoarse and generally making a merry fool of myself in support of the Pack.
- Even while the Mountain West is a one-bid conference for another season, its basketball tournament remains a fun experience. Nevada fans represented well, selling what appeared to be most, if not all, of their allotted seats in sections 103 through 105, with a decent smattering of blue in the VIP seats and other areas of the Thomas & Mack Center. More importantly, the ones who came out were passionate without being jerks to other fans — at least, this was the case from what I saw. New Mexico and San Diego State still outnumbered us by a big margin, but our showing this year was considerably better than that of last year. My respect for Lobo and Aztec fans is still healthy, as any game immediately following a loss by one of those teams felt like all the air had been sucked out of the arena. The Mountain West truly is a better league — and its tournament a better time — when those programs are strong.
- I didn’t see or hear any Nevada students at the games until Saturday. I really hate to keep harping on their need to step up their cheering game, but a tournament setting with other fans made this painfully clear. When Boise State can bring a louder, more coherent student presence to a conference tournament than the #1-seeded team — and they did just that — a return to boot camp is in order.
- Give UNLV this much credit: the renovations to the Thomas & Mack Center are impressive to behold. Selections at the concession stands were extensive, and all of great quality. The expanded bar areas made for great spaces to socialize with other fans, and the beer selection gets some serious props from this beer geek. Even the people working there were professional and helpful, with all of that combining to create a top-notch experience for true basketball fans.
- As cathartic as the title win was, my favorite memories of this tournament are both from the second half of the Fresno State game: going ballistic during the 25-2 run, and singing Sweet Caroline with everyone else in our section during a timeout. It was right up there with Livin’ on a Prayer during the Pack Friday Boise State football game (more on that song later).
- I’ll end on this note: if you can’t make it to an NCAA Tournament game — and chances are pretty good that you can’t — consider making plans for a half week in Vegas instead. Barring another chance at being placed in a bracket in northern California, we’ll bring pretty much the same number of fans for any NCAA Tournament game wherever the Pack plays. But Vegas will always be there in early March, and you can help both Nevada and the Mountain West by going there. And who knows? If you go, you might — key word “might” — get to see me on the video board lip synching Livin’ on a Prayer during another TV timeout. Not that that actually happened or anything.
- The Pack’s triumphant weekend was capped off with the confirmation they’ll be playing Iowa State of the Big XII in Milwaukee on Thursday night. Some national pundits who like Nevada’s chances to win include Seth Davis and Scott Van Pelt, and while that’s obviously nice to see…I don’t quite get it. The Cyclones look a lot like Nevada in many ways, like their athleticism, relative lack of height, and fast-paced, high-scoring offenses, but they have a lot of what we're told are called "signature wins," and that seems to check out. Second, they’ll be playing five and a half hours from their home with notoriously well-traveled fans at their backs. And just to mess with us even more, they have their own Deonte Burton. We were the original Deonte Burton hipsters, dammit! I’ll venture to say this is the worst draw in Milwaukee that Nevada could’ve hoped for. One area that could conceivably swing this game in Nevada’s favor is rebounding: Iowa State is surprisingly not great at it, and the Pack have rebounded well during their current winning streak. Another is Eric Musselman himself: even without an NCAA Tournament win to his name, he still has a wealth of head coaching experience to call upon for this game. Then there's good ol' probability in the form of the Dance's almost yearly 12-beats-5 upsets. Call this prediction preparing for the worst while hoping for the best: Iowa State 88, Nevada 81.
Ballast Point Peppermint Victory at Sea Imperial Porter (San Diego, California) ~ We’re still on a victory high from last week, we’re praying for victory on Thursday, and this beer has “victory” in the name, so why not? Ballast Point’s standard VaS is a dark, robust imperial porter with coffee and vanilla, and this is one of its two variations (the other featuring roasted coconut). It poured thick mahogany with a moderate tan head, smelling of those aforementioned coffee and vanilla notes, and with only the faintest hint of mint. The taste was pleasantly roasty and boozy, and had more baker’s chocolate than coffee in it. The peppermint, however, was strong, and with the hops, lingered almost to the point of tasting medicinal. Many of Ballast Point’s flavor variations on their old standbys — like Grapefruit Sculpin — are excellent, but this one was decidedly more mixed. If you’re really partial to peppermint, you’ll probably like it, but I personally like their standard VaS more. At least the artwork on the label is still rad — skeleton pirates are always hard to beat. I give it three and a half tipsy Wolfies out of five.
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