Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau
Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017 | 11:30 p.m.
With 8:49 remaining in the first half of Wednesday’s game at the Lawlor Center, UNR forward Cameron Oliver streaked down the court, elevated and threw down a vicious two-handed alley-oop dunk to give the Wolf Pack a 34-20 lead over UNLV.
Surging with energy, Oliver added a flourish by hanging on the rim, twisting and pulling his knees up to his chin. The additional theatrics earned Oliver a technical foul, but it hardly mattered to the packed house of UNR supporters, who howled with delight even as UNLV trudged to the free-throw line to shoot the technical. They had come for a party, and Oliver gave them what they wanted with his emphatic finish.
It was all UNR from tipoff to the final buzzer, and the raucous crowd got to revel in an epic beatdown of the big-brother Runnin’ Rebels, as UNR rolled to a 104-77 blowout victory.
It was UNR’s biggest margin of victory against UNLV in the history of the rivalry, and the first time the Wolf Pack cracked the century mark in the series.
Starting more than two hours before game time, when UNR students were lined up to get in early, it was obvious that this would be a big-game atmosphere for the Wolf Pack. After years of perceived second-class-citizen status, first-place UNR finally has the upper hand over the last-place, rebuilding Rebels, and the goal was to make that statement loud and clear on Wednesday.
Oliver delivered that message with his thunderous dunk (and the other three dunks he hammered home throughout the game), and from that point, the celebration was on.
The game clearly meant a lot to UNR and its fans, and Marvin Menzies didn’t think his team matched the intensity level inside the Lawlor Center.
“Rivalries, man,” Menzies said. “They’re tough games if you’re not in tune with the significance of them. As much as we tried to explain it to our guys and show them videos [of past UNLV-UNR games], they just got hit in the mouth in the first half and didn’t recover. We came back and threw some punches a little bit, but just overall not a very good effort.”
UNR used a 13-2 run late in the first half to take a 58-39 lead into the break, and UNLV never got closer than 14 points the rest of the way. The Wolf Pack were too athletic, too skilled, and too mission-oriented to let UNLV even dream about a comeback.
If the Rebels didn’t understand the rivalry before Wednesday, it sounded like they had some in-state pride knocked into them by the 27-point massacre.
“We saw some film from the past rivalry, so we knew this was going to be a huge crowd here tonight,” Jovan Mooring said. “Overall, for us, the good thing about this is we’ll see them again.”
UNR would most definitely welcome another opportunity to shred the Rebels’ defense. Running coach Eric Musselman’s fast-paced offense to perfection, the Wolf Pack made 11 3-pointers, pounded home six dunks and converted 12 layups. UNLV simply couldn’t keep up with that kind of offensive onslaught, despite the Rebels having one of their best shooting games in weeks (27-of-62, 43.5 percent).
The Wolf Pack shot 38-of-72 from the field (52.8 percent), and guard D.J. Fenner scored a game-high 37 points on just 15 shots, as he went 12-of-15 from the floor (5-of-6 3FGs, 8-of-9 FTs). Oliver finished with a loud 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting.
Mooring led the Rebels with 20 points, eight assists, three steals and four turnovers. Kris Clyburn chipped in 14 points off the bench, and Tyrell Green hit a couple 3-pointers on his way to 13 points.
The win must have been especially sweet for UNR assistant Dave Rice, who spent four-plus seasons as the head coach at UNLV before being fired last January. Now Rice is helping to guide the Mountain West’s top team while the Rebels are floundering, having dropped five consecutive games.
The question now for UNLV is when will the losing end? The Rebels have a home game on Saturday against surging San Jose State, then a week off before back-to-back road games at San Diego State and Air Force.
Mooring said the losing streak is having an effect on the Rebels, but that they’re committed to turning things around in the limited time remaining in the 2016-17 season.
“It’s tough,” Mooring said. “No one likes losing. I’m not used to losing myself, and I know the guys in the locker room are not used to losing. The good thing about this conference is, I don’t see a Duke or a Kansas, so I feel like this conference is still up for grabs. And I feel like as long as we continue to progress throughout the season and get better down the stretch, I think we can do some big things.”
Menzies wasn’t in the mood for long-term talk after the game, saying that the Rebels need to see results immediately, before the losing consumes them.
“We need to win that game Saturday,” he said. “We need to win games. We need to win a game. We haven’t won a game in five games. We’ve got to put our best foot forward on Saturday.”
Meanwhile, in Reno, the Wolf Pack weren’t worried about their next game, instead basking in the afterglow of one of the most satisfying wins in recent program history. For one season at least (and one night especially), UNR is up, UNLV is down and that was cause for celebration.