After the Wolf Pack stunned UNLV 64-62 in Las Vegas earlier this season, Las Vegas Sun columnist Ray Brewer penned an article calling the Rebels’ loss to the Wolf Pack a “black eye” and “shameful.”
That article, and game as a whole, shed tons of perspective on the state of the Nevada-UNLV basketball rivalry. Here’s Brewer — who is at the pulse of Rebel athletics — calling a loss to an in-state rival “shameful” and a “black eye.”
Disappointing? Sure. But when Rebel fans are embarrassed of losing to the Wolf Pack, that tells you everything you need to know about how Vegas views this rivalry — an easy win. In reality, it feels like the same way Wolf Pack fans view the rivalry on the football level.
That appeared to resonate with UNLV players, too. It seemed like the Rebels took Nevada lightly, failing to match the urgency and energy that the Wolf Pack played with all game.
UNLV didn’t play with the same intensity against Nevada that it does when facing San Diego State or New Mexico.
Even The Rebellion, UNLV’s version of Blue Crew, didn’t seem particularly engaged during the Nevada game, at least on TV. The Thomas and Mack Center is a frenzy whenever the Aztecs visit, but the same ruckus was missing during the team’s first meeting.
Out of curiosity, I asked a friend of mine from UNLV — who lives for Rebel games — for his perspective. My question: How does the Nevada rivalry fare compare to San Diego State and New Mexico?
His response: “With SDSU and New Mexico, it’s like ‘We hate you [expletive] and just want to beat the [expletive] out of you.’ It’s more of a bitter we-just-flat-out-hate-you rivalry than the UNR [sic] we-own-this-state rivalry.”
He assured me the rivalry still exists in basketball, but there’s a changing of the guard.
New life has been breathed upon the rivalry — that’s what three consecutive losses will do to a once one-sided feud.
However, don’t just take his word for it. UNLV players are also singing a different tune this time around.
“I lost a lot of sleep from that loss,” said Rebels’ guard Rashad Vaughn. “I can’t wait to go back there and play them again.”
That quote came after UNLV thumped San Jose State by 24 points. That was more than two weeks ago. Vaughn, the MWC’s second-leading scorer at 17.9 points per game, mentioned today’s showdown on Jan. 24 after beating Utah State, too.
“I think the whole team really wants them,” he said. “We’re going to go up there pretty excited to play them with a chip on our shoulder.”
Vaughn isn’t alone, either. When asked about the status of injured forward Goodluck Okonoboh after UNLV beat Utah State, Rebels head coach Dave Rice was already looking ahead to today’s matchup.
“I’m already thinking about blocking out AJ West,” Rice said about the status of Okonoboh, who tonight is tasked with guarding West. “Last time we played Reno, we didn’t know where AJ West was.”
Now, it’s up to the Wolf Pack to add more fuel to the fire. A blowout loss tonight will revert this rivalry to its old ways — a gimme win for UNLV. However, a Nevada win? Rivalry renewed.
Eric Uribe can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @Uribe_Eric.