Santoro: January full of tests as Pack reaches for Top 25

Nevada’s Kenan Blackshear leads the Wolf Pack with 4.8 assists per game. He’s also averaging 16.2 points and 5.6 rebounds.

Nevada’s Kenan Blackshear leads the Wolf Pack with 4.8 assists per game. He’s also averaging 16.2 points and 5.6 rebounds.
Photo by Steve Ranson.

Sports Fodder:

The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team is now heading into its most important three-week stretch of its so-far magical season.

Over the next six games, starting Tuesday (Air Force) and Friday (Boise State) at Lawlor Events Center, we will get a better understanding of what the Wolf Pack’s improbable 14-1 start truly means.

Will it turn into a cruel mirage, or will it become a golden ticket into a magical mystery tour through March Madness?

Air Force, a program that has had just six winning seasons since 1977-78, shouldn’t be much of a problem, especially at Lawlor, where the Pack is favored Tuesday night by 15 points.

After that, though, always-difficult Boise State (10-4) comes to Lawlor on Friday before the Pack heads to San Diego State (13-2) next Wednesday (Jan. 17) to play a confident, gritty and experienced team that got to the national title game last March.

The Aztecs probably would have beaten Connecticut to become national champs if the game was at their comfy Viejas Arena.

Boise State will come to Lawlor on Friday with an orange and blue chip on its shoulder since their four losses have denied them the praise so far given to the one-loss Pack and Utah State and the two-loss Aztecs, Colorado State and New Mexico.

The Boise State game will be followed by a game at Wyoming (8-7) on Jan 20, a pivotal matchup against Colorado State (13-2) on Jan. 24 at Lawlor and then an always difficult test at New Mexico (13-2) on Jan. 28.

None of the above teams except maybe Air Force and Wyoming will be blinded by the Pack’s 14-1 record. They will, however, look at that juicy record as if it is an unguarded slice of prime rib in their cage that will only serve to fatten up their own NCAA Tournament dreams.

The Pack needs to look at San Diego State, Boise State, Colorado State and New Mexico the same way.

If the Pack wins four of its next six and is sitting at 18-3 heading into February, then all will be right in Wolf Pack world.

Four or more losses over the next six games, though, will raise a red flag up on N. Virginia Street. It would leave the Pack in the second tier of Mountain West teams behind the likes of San Diego State, Colorado State, Boise State, Utah State and maybe even New Mexico.

These next six games through the end of January will either raise the Pack’s confidence or its doubts.

And it better be confidence because February will also offer a handful of difficult tests on the road at Utah State, UNLV and Colorado State and at home against New Mexico and San Diego State.

Don’t ignore the fact the Top 25 voters aren’t completely convinced yet in the powers of the Pack and are not true believers in all things silver and blue.

The voters (coaches and media) have put San Diego State, Colorado State and Utah State from the Mountain West in the Top 25 and left the Pack out on the steps, knocking on the front door.

The Pack needs to use these next six games to convince the voters to become true believers.


Boise State on Friday will be the first true big test of the year. It’s one thing to go to Washington in the third game of the year and win against a team that likely spent less time scouting you than it did working on their pre-game introductions. But it’s quite another to beat a Boise State team that might know more about you than you know about yourself.

A loss to Boise State at Lawlor will send a message around the Mountain West that the Pack’s great start was done with mirrors, sleight of hand and fancy scheduling. If Boise State can go to Lawlor and win, then it will give San Diego State, Utah State and Colorado State confidence it could do the same.

The Pack doesn’t want to play confident versions of those teams at home. The Pack wants those teams to come to Lawlor and be a little concerned, cautious and timid.

The Pack has won 52-of-84 games in its nearly 50-year rivalry (since 1977-78) with the Broncos. It has won 29-of-42 in Reno. A Pack win on Friday is mandatory.


Friday’s game against Boise State will be the Trent Johnson Classic. The former Wolf Pack (1999-04) head coach and Boise State star player is the biggest basketball connection between the two rivals.

Johnson scored 1,155 points for Boise State from 1974-78 and remains one of its all-time leading rebounders with 702.

Johnson was 7-1 against Boise State as the Wolf Pack head coach. But he also was 0-1 against the Pack as a Boise player.

Johnson played in the very first Boise State-Nevada game on Dec. 22, 1977, at the Centennial Coliseum in Reno. The game was part of the Wolf Pack Classic and was won by the Pack and head coach Jim Carey, 79-66, in front of a crowd of 4,156 (there better be at least double that on Friday at Lawlor).

Johnson scored 14 points for Boise State, which also got 22 points from Danny Jones and 17 from Steve Connor. The Pack got 23 points and 12 rebounds from Edgar Jones, 17 points from Michael “Fly” Gray and 15 from Steve Hunter.


The Wolf Pack football team has added nearly 600 pounds of football players this week, getting commitments from Virginia Cavaliers lineman Tapuvae “Snoop” Leota-Amaama (6-foot-4, 346 pounds) and Florida Gators tight end Andrew Savaiinaea (6-4, 273) out of the transfer portal.

But a few Pack players also jumped into the portal in the last two weeks or so. Wide receiver Jamaal Bell is in the portal looking for a new team, while defensive linemen James Hansen (Texas Tech) and Dion Washington (Hawaii) have already found new homes.

The transfer portal giveth and also taketh away.

Leota-Amaama, from Lehi, Utah, did not appear in a game for Virginia in 2022 or 2023. Savaiinaea, from Graham, Wash., also did not play in a game for Florida the past two seasons.


The NFL playoffs feature six intriguing matchups this weekend.

Cleveland is at Houston and Miami is at Kansas City on Saturday; on Sunday it will be Pittsburgh at Buffalo, Green Bay at Dallas and the Los Angeles Rams at the Detroit Lions. Philadelphia goes to Tampa Bay on Monday to close out wildcard weekend.

Philadelphia, Detroit, Cleveland and Kansas City are all about a field goal favorite. Buffalo is favored by a touchdown and a field goal over Pittsburgh while Dallas is about a touchdown favorite over Green Bay.

It’s difficult to have much faith in any of the underdogs.


The most intriguing of the first-round matchups are Detroit-Los Angeles, Kansas City-Miami and Green Bay-Dallas.

Detroit and Los Angeles swapped quarterbacks (Detroit’s Jared Goff and Los Angeles’ Matthew Stafford) a couple years back. Dallas coach Mike McCarthy used to coach Green Bay, while Kansas City and Miami met in one of the most classic and legendary NFL playoff games five decades ago.

The Dolphins beat the Chiefs, 27-24, on Christmas Day 1971 in the longest game in NFL history (82 minutes and 40 seconds of playing time).

Garo Yepremian’s 37-yard field goal won the game in the second overtime. A 5-yard touchdown pass from Miami’s Bob Griese to Marv Fleming with 1:25 to play sent the game to overtime.

Both Yepremian (52 yards) and the Chiefs’ Jan Stenerud (42 yards) missed field goals in the first overtime.

Kansas City’s Ed Podolak turned in one of the best playoff performances in NFL history with 350 all-purpose yards (85 rushing, 110 receiving, 154 on kickoff returns and one yard on two punt returns) and two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving).

Miami’s Nick Buoniconti had 20 tackles and Paul Warfield (the original Tyreke Hill) caught seven passes for 140 yards.

Patrick Mahomes and Tua Tagavailoa have a lot to live up to this weekend.


The Mountain West can hold its head up high with pride this weekend with two former conference quarterbacks in the NFL playoffs.

Buffalo’s Josh Allen played for Wyoming from 2015-17 while Green Bay’s Jordan Love played at Utah State from 2017-19.

The two only faced each other once in college, with Wyoming winning 28-23 at Utah State in 2017. Allen passed for 208 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 36 yards and another score.

Love entered the game in the second quarter for starter Kent Myers and completed 8-of-18 passes for 109 yards and three interceptions before being relieved by Myers late in the third quarter.


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