Santoro: Pack must take advantage of having state’s best fans

Nevada’s Jarod Lucas launches a 3-pointer over Boise State’s Tyson Degenhart during the Wolf Pack’s loss to the Broncos on Friday.

Nevada’s Jarod Lucas launches a 3-pointer over Boise State’s Tyson Degenhart during the Wolf Pack’s loss to the Broncos on Friday.
Photo by Thomas Ranson.

Sports Fodder:

The best college basketball fans in the state of Nevada belong to the Nevada Wolf Pack. That was made obvious this past Saturday when the Wolf Pack attracted a crowd of 10,191 to Lawlor Events Center for a Mountain West game against Boise State while UNLV drew just 5,992 at Thomas & Mack Center for a league game against Utah State.

Two important big Mountain West games on the very same night. Two talented road teams roughly the same distance (Logan, Utah is about 500 miles from Las Vegas while Boise, Idaho is about 425 miles from Reno) from the venue. And the Pack nearly doubles the attendance of the Rebels.

That sort of thing has been happening now for quite a while. The Wolf Pack is averaging 7,715 fans this season while UNLV has averaged 4,020. The Wolf Pack has not had a home crowd of less than 6,875 this year (in the home opener against Sacramento State) while UNLV has not had a home crowd of more than 5,992 (Saturday against Utah State).


UNLV used to be one of the signature programs of the Mountain West. The Rebels had average home crowds of more than 10,000 fans a game for the first 18 years of the conference, from 1999-00 through 2016-17.

UNLV led the Mountain West in attendance in 2009-10 (13,917), 2012-13 (15,196) and 2013-14 (13,125). The last two seasons (post-COVID-19) the Rebels have averaged 4,917 (2021-22) and 6,063 (2022-23) fans a game.

The Wolf Pack has averaged more fans at home than UNLV in each of the last four seasons, minus the 2020-21 COVID-19 season when few fans were allowed in the arenas.

The Pack averaged 10,877 in 2018-19; 8,721 in 2019-20; 7,056 in 2021-22; and 7,430 last year. UNLV averaged 8,722 in 2018-19; 8,218 in 2019-20; 4,917 in 2021-22; and 6,063 last year.


What killed UNLV’s men’s basketball attendance? Well, mediocre-to-bad basketball, for one. The Rebels have won as many as 20 games just once (20-13 in 2017-18) over the last seven seasons.

The program, which has hosted the Mountain West postseason tournament each year since 2007, hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2012-13.

The second-biggest reason, it seems, is that Las Vegas has clearly outgrown the Rebels.

Las Vegas is now a professional sports town with the NFL’s Raiders, NHL’s Golden Knights and major league baseball’s Athletics on the way. There’s also rumors Las Vegas is on a short list of potential NBA expansion cities.

The Wolf Pack, by comparison, complains its home football crowds are hurt by the opening of chukar hunting season, the rib festival and the balloon races.


Home attendance is extremely important in the Mountain West. It’s no secret a crowd of five figures can intimidate opposing teams and officials.

Heading into Tuesday night, there were still four Mountain West teams (Utah State, Boise State, San Diego State and New Mexico) that were still unbeaten at home. And, no, it is not a coincidence that those four programs have the most loyal, vocal and nasty fans in the conference.

The Pack, 9-1 at home, isn’t that far off from the above Fab Four. Pack fans won’t come out to support a loser, but they will knock over their aging mother on the way to Lawlor on a cold winter’s night to back a winner.

In addition to the four unbeaten home teams in the Mountain West there are also three more (Nevada, Colorado State, Wyoming) with just one home loss.

Even UNLV has lost just twice at home this year. Every team in the conference except Air Force (4-5) has a winning record at home right now. Air Force, by the way, intimidates nobody with an average home crowd this year of about 1,500 fans a game.

Selling tickets is crucial in college basketball for the financial bottom line and the standings.


The Pack’s 64-56 loss at Lawlor to Boise State didn’t ruin anything as far as its NCAA Tournament goals this year are concerned.

The Pack, even after the loss, is still ranked No. 43 (ahead of Boise State at 44) in the nation in the all-important NET rankings. That is, don’t forget, out of 362 teams.

Yes, four Mountain West teams are ahead of the Pack (Utah State at 19, Colorado State at 20, San Diego State at 25 and New Mexico at 36) right now but if the tournament teams were decided today the Pack would still be a single-digit seed.

But the loss to Boise should not be brushed off as a random, meaningless, one-off event.

It hurts simply because it happened at home. The 10,191 that showed up should have been enough to carry the Pack across the finish line against Boise State.

Even the officials played the roles well, calling three more fouls on Boise and giving the Pack two more free throws. Boise State also seemed a bit intimidated by the crowd, committing an alarming 18 turnovers.

The Broncos didn’t even play all that well, shooting just 41 percent from the floor, 23 percent on threes and committing turnover after turnover.

And the Pack still lost by eight. At home. In front of 10,191 fans. It was a loss filled with a ton of red flags for the Pack (rebounding, bench production, poor shooting lead the list). The Pack leaders (Jarod Lucas, Kenan Blackshear) were just 10-of-30 from the floor combined. The bench did almost nothing.

Ignoring what happened last Saturday would be a mistake. The Pack shouldn’t dwell on the loss, but it better learn from it.


We will find out just how much the Pack learned on Wednesday night at San Diego State.

The Aztecs (14-3, 3-1) are almost impossible to beat at Viejas Arena but that is where the loss to Boise might prove to be a blessing in disguise for the Pack.

The Wolf Pack should arrive in San Diego that much more motivated, determined, poised and focused. Boise State pushed the Pack around under the basket and San Diego State will try to do the same on Wednesday.

The Aztecs went to the NCAA Tournament title game last March (losing to Connecticut) but haven’t been the same team since.

San Diego State hasn’t lost at home this year, but it has suffered eye-opening losses at BYU, Grand Canyon and New Mexico (last Saturday). They also beat San Jose State by just three on the road and UC Irvine by just one at home.

The Pack can steal a win at Viejas, putting its Top 25 hopes back on track. It’s not going to be easy. But that’s a lesson the Pack already learned last Saturday.


The Wolf Pack football program added some more size and experience recently by plucking former Kansas, Arizona State and Cal offensive lineman Spencer Lovell (6-foot-6, 325 pounds) out of the transfer portal.

Lovell, who has just one year of eligibility remaining, has played 41 games in the Pac-12 and Big 12 combined, though he only has a small handful of starts.

The Pack will be his fifth team since he left high school after the 2017 season. In addition to Arizona State, Cal and Kansas, he also verbally committed to his hometown Colorado State Rams out of high school, though he didn’t sign.

Lovell, considered a graduate transfer, did not play in Kansas’ 31-24 win at Mackay Stadium this past September.

New Pack coach Jeff Choate has clearly put an emphasis so far on adding bulk at experience up front. The Pack has also added ex-Virginia lineman Tapuvae Leota-Amaama (6-4, 346) and ex-Florida tight end Andrew Savaiinaea (6-4, 273) out of the portal.

The Pack also lost defensive linemen James Hansen to Texas Tech and Dion Washington to Hawaii through the portal. Former Wolf Pack wide receiver/ running back Jamaal Bell also jumped into the portal and recently committed to Baylor.


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