Written By: Bill Harty
Welcome back to Las Vegas, where it was still a balmy 63 degrees as the evening session of games in the WAC Men’s Basketball Tournament began with the top seeded Nevada Wolf Pack facing the eight-seeded San Jose State Spartans. The Orleans sports book had Nevada as eleven point favorites, and expected that somewhere near 133½ points would be scored.
As they did against all WAC foes but Idaho, Nevada swept the regular season series with San Jose, winning 81-57 on January 12 in Reno, and 76-70 on their way back from Hawai'i February 11. Nevada had won six of their last seven, losing only the BracketBusters contest at Iona, and 22 of the 24 games since a late-November loss to BYU. Only Idaho among WAC schools broke through against Nevada. As you’d expect from the seeding, San Jose’s season has been just the opposite. The Spartans’ only WAC win came in two overtimes against rival Fresno State.
With no pressure or expectations, San Jose State played an intense zone defense and kept the Wolf Pack on their heels for most of the first half. Both teams’ shooting was terrible in the first half, the Spartans shooting 28% and Nevada 21%. Nevada guard Jerry Evans Jr. made the half’s only three pointer. Turnovers weren’t horrible (seven by San Jose, eight by Nevada). San Jose had the halftime lead, 14-13.
Here’s the San Jose band performing at the half:
The second half scoring began when Malik Story of Nevada fouled Spartan James Kinney attempting a three point shot; Kinney completed the hat trick putting San Jose up four. The first five minutes or so of the half was a tour de force for Spartan forward Wil Carter who scored ten of his sixteen second half points in this stretch. This was punctuated by all six of Story’s second half points for Nevada, ending with a breakaway slam. With fifteen minutes to play, San Jose led 27-19.
About a minute later in the process of getting a rebound, Spartan Stephon Smith gave a forearm shot to conference player of the year Deonte Burton, Nevada’s sophomore point guard. It did not look intentional to me during play, or on a scoreboard replay, but after a very long officials conference with repeated viewing of the replay monitor, it was called a flagrant-one foul. The delay seemed to take the wind from the San Jose sails. Burton made both free throws, then a three pointer on the following possession, cutting the San Jose lead to two. After another Carter basket, the Wolf Pack scored ten straight points, including a second three-pointer from Burton, and four inside baskets, three by forward Olek Czyz including an emphatic dunk, putting Nevada in the lead 40-32 with about seven minutes to play.
San Jose made one more run, keyed by guard Keith Shamburger steals that led to seven quick points by the Spartans, closing the gap to two with six minutes to play. Nevada’s superior size and skills took over from that point; the Wolf Pack scored the next eight points, building a ten point lead they held the rest of the contest, winning 54-44.
Carter led all scorers with eighteen points; no other Spartan had more than eight. Burton’s sixteen led the Wolf Pack, with Evans and Czyz contributing ten each.
The close of San Jose’s season brings to an end the careers of four seniors, Carter, guard Calvin Douglas, forward Garrett Ton, and center Matt Ballard; but the emergence of sophomore Shamburger and freshman Smith gives coach George Nessman a foundation for next year’s squad. Third-year Nevada head coach David Carter will lead the Wolf Pack into a semi-final game against the winner of the last Thursday game between the Utah State Aggies and the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs.