As the Nevada men’s basketball team’s season wore on, and as the Wolf Pack began to rack up wins, more and more fans showed their support of the Silver and Blue. That was no more evident than the attendance figure of just a shade under 7,000 for last Sunday’s NIT second-round home win over Bucknell.
It was also apparent Wednesday night in Palo Alto, Calif. where Nevada played Stanford in an NIT quarterfinal. Wolf Pack Athletic Director Cary Groth estimated, and I agree, that more than 600 Nevada fans made the trek to the Bay Area to support Nevada’s efforts against Stanford. That was roughly a fifth of the crowd and the Pack fans could definitely be heard during the few moments when Nevada did something positive in its lackluster 84-56 postseason defeat.
I talked to a few Nevada fans after they watched their beloved Pack get run over by a motivated Stanford team. I was surprised more weren’t frustrated that they drove the four and a half hours from the Truckee Meadows to the South Bay Area to watch Nevada play arguably its worst game of the year. The Wolf Pack was thoroughly dominated and did not seem to put up much a fight. It would be easy to understand if Nevada fans felt some sentiment of frustration that they wasted their time and money.
If you went to Stanford Wednesday or just watched the game on ESPN2, you know what I’m saying. But despite the Pack’s lackluster effort, Nevada fans were seeing the big picture immediately after the loss.
“Yeah, we wished they’d have played better, but they did well overall,” said Kelly Crane, a Nevada freshman, who attended the game on her spring break vacation. “We had a better season than last year and it was still exciting for us to come.”
That sentiment seemed to be the overwhelming norm.
Nevada fans should be applauded. I was surprised to see so much Navy among the Cardinal-clad Stanford fans. Pack supports were just as loud, if not louder, than Cardinal fans during the announcement of starting lineups. When Nevada fell behind by 22 early in the second half and showed brief signs of life by trimming the Stanford lead to 13, you’d have thought it was a five-point game based on the decibels Pack fans were putting out.
Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins all but admitted that.
“I thought it was a terrific crowd, “ the Cardinal’s fourth-year coach said. “I thought there was a lot of energy in the building. I give Nevada credit. They traveled well. The fans were terrific. That’s what you want. You want to be in a great environment and you want to know when you’re out there competing that it means something.”
It was almost as if Nevada fans made the trip to Stanford as a show of thanks for a surprisingly successful season. Most local hoop fans figured Nevada, with its starting five returning, would be better than its 13-19 mark of a year ago. But no one expected a 28-7 season. Not even Nevada coach David Carter figured that was in the cards.
“For me, I think we probably accomplished a little more than I thought we would,” Carter said. “I didn’t see us winning 28 games. I did see us challenging for a (WAC) championship, winning 20 games and going to the postseason, but these guys exceeded a lot of my expectations.”
It would be tough to find a Pack fan whose expectations the current team did not meet or surpass. After all, Nevada is the most improved Division I team in the country. It improved its win total by 15 and cut its losses by 12. That’s impressive.
So yes, it was frustrating to watch Nevada get manhandled at Stanford in its season finale Wednesday, but it’s hard to not see the big picture and understand the 2011-12 Pack season was a special one.
Nevada’s junior guard Malik Story summed it up pretty well during a postgame interview session.
“There’s a bad taste in your mouth when you lose like this,” Story said. “But last year we were 13-19. Looking back on this year, there are so many positives.”
Dan Eckles is the Sparks Tribune’s sports editor. He can be reached via email at: email@example.com