The first time the Nevada Wolf Pack and Nevada Southern Rebels met on a basketball court, Wolf Pack coach Jack Spencer called the games “a toss-up.”
“This will be the first battle in what promises to be a lively and endless war between the two branches of the state universities,” is how a Reno newspaper described the inaugural meeting between the Pack and Rebels on a snowy and frigid night Jan. 22, 1962.
The 90th edition of that lively and endless Silver State civil war will be Wednesday night (8 p.m.) at Lawlor Events Center.
A lot has changed since the Wolf Pack beat the Rebels 71-51 in front of 1,500 fans at the University of Nevada’s gymnasium on Virginia Street 58 years ago. First of all, that historic site of the first game of the rivalry is now called the “Old Gym” and it no longer houses Wolf Pack regular season games. The Nevada Southern Rebels are now the University of Nevada-Las Vegas Runnin’ Rebels and, this is just a hunch, but a slightly larger crowd than 1,500 is expected to crowd Lawlor Events Center on Wednesday.
“Bring your earplugs if you don’t like noise,” said former Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman a year ago before that Pack hosted the Rebels at Lawlor in front of 11,289 fans.
One other thing has also changed. The rivalry has been anything but a toss-up over the past six decades. The Wolf Pack won six of the first 10 games from 1962-66. UNLV won 38-of-42 from 1966 through 1994, the Pack won 9-of-15 from 1994 through 2006, UNLV won eight in a row from 2006-2013 and the Pack has won 10 of the last 14 over the past six seasons. It has all added up to a very un-tossup-like 60-29 UNLV edge in the one-sided rivalry.
The Wolf Pack, though, has treated each one of its 29 victories the way the North treated its victory over the South back in 1865.
A look back at the Wolf Pack’s Top 10 victories over UNLV on the hardcourt:
10. WOLF PACK 71, REBELS 51 (January 22, 1962)
Wolf Pack fans had to brave sub-zero temperatures and over a foot of new snow that had fallen just a few days earlier to get to the first game of the rivalry. A crowd of 1,500 showed up at the Pack’s gym because, well, the game wasn’t on national television, nobody was tweeting play-by-play of the game and there wasn’t one single picture available on social media. The Pack, which started the 1961-62 season a disappointing 1-9 with difficult losses at Gonzaga, Purdue and Iowa, rewarded its loyal fans with a 20-point win to kick off the rivalry. The Pack, labeled the “Big Brothers” by the media, led 32-27 at halftime. Craig Hall had 24 points while Bill Robinson had 19 points and 13 rebounds and Stu Johnson had 18 points as the Wolf Pack buried the young Rebs coached by former Pack player Chub Drakulich. It would be the Pack’s biggest margin of victory in the rivalry for 55 years.
9. WOLF PACK 64, REBELS 61 (Feb. 1, 1971)
The Wolf Pack needed a victory in the worst way. Coach Jack Spencer’s Pack had not won a game in a month, since a 65-63 win over San Jose State on Jan. 2. The Pack had just two wins all year in 16 games. The Wolf Pack had not beaten UNLV since a 78-73 win on Feb. 8, 1966. The Rebels took a 57-50 lead with eight minutes to go at Centennial Coliseum in Reno. The Pack then came alive. Romie Thomas had 31 points for the Pack on 13-of-22 shooting. Nate Appleton had two free throws with two seconds to go to secure the 64-61 win. Doug Hixon had just four points but had seven important assists as the Wolf Pack finally had a reason to smile in the 1970-71 season. UNLV coach John Bayer blamed the loss on the referees. “The officials missed five straight fouls,” Bayer said. “They (the Pack) clubbed us all over the floor.” Spencer credited the win to teamwork. “They finally believe that they can whip somebody if they play together and hang tough,” Spencer said of his Pack. “This one proved we can win.” It proved to be a one-night anomaly. The Pack would go on to lose its last nine games, including a season-ending 81-70 loss at UNLV a month later on its way to a 3-23 season. The win during the 1970-71 season was the Pack’s only triumph over UNLV over a 13-game stretch from 1966-73.
8. WOLF PACK 94, UNLV 58 (Feb. 25, 2017)
A Rebel crowd of 14,808 showed up at Thomas & Mack Center. What they witnessed was the Wolf Pack’s biggest win ever in the rivalry. The Wolf Pack, losers of 33 of their first 41 games in Las Vegas against the Rebels, simply destroyed their southern rivals. The Pack, already up 72-52 with 10 minutes to go, then stepped on the Rebels’ necks, going on an 18-0 run to turn the game into a slaughter. Jordan Caroline had 31 points and 10 rebounds, Marcus Marshall had 28 points on eight 3-pointers. “We talked to our basketball team about the importance of this game to our athletic department, our boosters, our alumni,” Pack coach Eric Musselman said. “Anytime Nevada plays UNLV we understand there’s a rivalry.” It wasn’t much of a rivalry in February 2017 (see No. 7 on this list).
7. WOLF PACK 104, REBELS 77 (Feb. 8, 2017)
The largest crowd in Lawlor Events Center history (11,841) showed up to watch the Wolf Pack destroy the Rebels. And nobody in silver and blue left the arena disappointed. The Pack, after all, was 18-5 heading into the game with dreams of going to its first NCAA tournament since 2007. The Rebels were floundering at 10-14. Boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer announced the starting lineup as the Wolf Pack even stole a little Las Vegas flavor from the Rebels. D.J. Fenner scored 37 points on five threes, making 12-of-15 shots from the floor as the Wolf Pack earned its biggest win (27 points) in the rivalry at the time. Cam Oliver had 25 points. “I’m really blessed,” Fenner said. “Hopefully this is a story to tell the kids one day.” Musselman praised the Pack fans. “The atmosphere in the two games I’ve been a part of this rivalry in Lawlor has been incredible,” he said.
6. WOLF PACK 74, REBELS 71 (Jan. 8, 2014);
WOLF PACK 76, REBELS 72 (March 8, 2014)
The Wolf Pack’s two victories over UNLV during the 2013-14 season were so eerily similar that they must be listed together. The scores were almost the same. It was Deonte Burton’s senior season. The two games were his fond farewell to Pack fans. The Pack had lost eight in a row to the Rebels and hadn’t won in the rivalry since Nov. 26, 2005. Burton simply refused to leave Nevada without beating the Rebels. The point guard had a crowd-pleasing, jaw-dropping monster dunk to cap off each of the victories in January and March, 2014. He stuffed home an alley-oop from Marqueze Coleman for a 69-56 lead in January in front of a crowd of 13,741 in Las Vegas and finished the game with 29 points. “I’m not going to lie,” Burton said that night. “This is pretty big for me. We finally got a win.” Two months later he did it all over again on Senior Night in his farewell to Pack fans. Burton exploded along the baseline for a memorable dunk late in the game at Lawlor and finished with 24 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds in a four-point win. The Pack trailed 54-37 with 16 minutes left and Burton simply put the team on his back as 10,316 fans left Lawlor after a win over UNLV for the first time since Dec. 4, 2004. The 1961-62, 1965-66 and 1994-95 seasons were the only others at that time to feature two victories over UNLV.
5. WOLF PACK 65, REBELS 63 (Jan. 23, 2016)
This was the night that the Eric Musselman era in Nevada caught fire. A crowd of 11,341 jammed its way into Lawlor Events Center for Musselman’s first game in the rivalry. The Pack was just 11-7 but the community obviously sensed something special was about to happen. UNLV led 49-40 with 10:32 to play but the Pack went on a 14-4 run to take a 54-53 lead five minutes later. Freshman Lindsey Drew hit a big 3-pointer with 61 seconds to play for a 61-60 Pack lead. Marqueze Coleman drained four free throws in the final 19 seconds to secure the victory. Coleman, a senior, had 21 points but missed 12 of his 15 field goals. He did, however, go 15-of-20 from the free throw line. Musselman became a Wolf Pack legend that night.
4. WOLF PACK 76, REBELS 74 (Feb. 8, 1973)
The Wolf Pack had lost 12 of its last 13 games in the rivalry. Yes, the little brothers down south grew up in a hurry. The Pack, on its way to a 10-16 season in coach Jim Padgett’s first year, appeared headed to another loss to the Rebels in front of a crowd of 4,000 at Centennial Coliseum. With the game tied, 74-74, the Rebels had the ball and were about to set up what could be a game-winning shot as time expired. UNLV’s Eddie Taylor, though, took a surprising and ill-advised shot with 20 seconds left and the Pack rebounded the ball. Rebel coach John Bayer immediately benched Taylor. Padgett then called two timeouts before a freshman from Carson City named Greg Davis was fouled with four seconds left in the game. Davis, who had just four points in the game to that point, calmly made his two free throws to give the Pack a stunning victory. “I just tried to put everything from my mind,” said Davis after the game. Marvin Buckley had 20 points for the Pack. Pete Padgett, the coach’s son, had 10 points and 14 rebounds. “That crowd behind us really helped,” Jim Padgett said. The Rebels would replace Bayer the following season with Jerry Tarkanian and the Pack would proceed to lose 26 of its next 28 games in the rivalry.
3. WOLF PACK 93, UNLV 88 (Feb. 5, 1994)
The third biggest crowd in Lawlor Events Center history at the time (11,105) showed up despite the fact that the Pack had not beaten the Rebels since Nov. 23, 1984 and had lost 11 in a row in the one-sided rivalry and 16 of the last 17. First-year coach Pat Foster’s Wolf Pack, though, stunned Rollie Massimino’s Rebels 93-88 behind 29 points from Jimmy Moore and 20 points and six threes from Jerry Hogan. Point guard Eathan O’Bryant also had 16 points and nine assists. The game signaled the beginning of a new era in the rivalry. UNLV had won 42 of the first 52 games in the rivalry. Since that magical night in Feb. 1994, though, the Pack has held a 19-18 edge. “I just wanted to win this for the university and for Reno,” Moore said. “This has been a football school. Nevada always beats UNLV in football but not in basketball.” Athletic director Chris Ault, who would begin his second stint as Pack head coach in the fall of 1994, was happy to see basketball finally share in the spotlight. “This solidifies where our (men’s basketball) program is at,” Ault said after the victory in 1994. “All the questions about why we hired Pat Foster are over now. This is why we hired him.”
2. WOLF PACK 86, REBELS 76 (Dec. 10, 1981)
The Rebels played host to the Wolf Pack in December 1981 as the No. 15-ranked team in the nation. The Rebels were 3-0 entering the game at the Las Vegas Convention Center, having beaten BYU, LSU and Arizona. The Pack was 3-2 and coming off a 60-57 loss at home to Santa Clara. And, oh yeah, the Pack had lost its last 10 games in a row to UNLV and had was 1-16 against the Rebels in Las Vegas in the history of the rivalry. Nothing added up to a victory for the Pack in December 1981. The Wolf Pack, though, led 40-38 at halftime and stunned the Rebels in a physical game. The game might have been decided by the coach’s sons. Billy Allen, son of Pack coach Sonny Allen, had 13 points and nine assists and played the entire 40 minutes. Danny Tarkanian, son of Rebel coach Jerry Tarkanian, was 0-for-9 from the floor. James “B.B.” Fontenet had 17 points and five assists. Ken “Tree” Green had 18 points. Greg Palm had 12 points and 10 rebounds. Sam Mosley had 23 points and 14 rebounds. “This is the toughest place in the world to play,” Pack coach Sonny Allen said just two years before the opening of Thomas & Mack Center. Jerry Tarkanian praised the Pack. “I was impressed by this Reno team,” Tarkanian said. “They gave us fits all night.” Sidney Green who would go on to a lengthy career in the NBA, had 16 points for UNLV. “They may be the No. 15 team in the nation,” Sonny Allen said. “But they are No. 2 in Nevada.”
1. WOLF PACK 97, UNLV 89 (Nov. 23, 1984)
This is the best UNLV team that the Wolf Pack has ever beaten. The Rebels, led by Freddie Banks and Armon Gilliam, were ranked No. 11 in the nation when they opened the 1984-85 season at Lawlor Events Center against the Pack. UNLV would go on to post a 28-4 record in 1984-85, winning 27-of-28 games at one point and losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament. They would finish as the No. 9-ranked team in the nation. The Pack? Well, they opened the season with a six-point exhibition loss to Spirit Express. But it was a confident Pack team, especially coming off its first NCAA tournament appearance in school history the year before. The Pack, obviously spurred on by a then-record Lawlor crowd of 11,125, then proceeded to punch the Rebels in the mouth. The Pack outrebounded the Rebels 62-38. UNLV led 49-45 at the half but the Pack dominated the second 20 minutes. Tony Sommers had 14 rebounds. Dwyane Randall had 10 rebounds. Ed Porter had 19 points and 10 rebounds. Curtis High had 22 points, nine rebounds and 11 assists and was the best player on the floor. Tony Ronzone had a 3-pointer for a 90-83 Pack lead with two minutes to go. “There was no reason for them to dominate the boards like that,” Rebel coach Jerry Tarkanian said. “They killed us. They outplayed us in every way imaginable.” “It’s not that much of an upset,” Pack coach Sonny Allen said. “I knew we could beat them.” The Wolf Pack’s Quentin Stephens added, “They (Rebels) aren’t that smart of ballplayers. They don’t box out like a lot of teams in the (Wolf Pack’s) Big Sky Conference. They depend on their athletic ability, which they have a lot of.” The No. 11 team in the nation was simply No. 2 in the state of Nevada on this night.