Every March, the NCAA Tournament dominates news cycles and water-cooler talk across the country for three weeks. A decade ago, Nevada was in that national conversation for four consecutive years. With the recent firing of head coach David Carter, the Wolf Pack’s hopes of returning to March Madness appear as grim as ever. However, there’s nothing like a little nostalgia to get fans excited about the basketball program again. Here’s a look at Nevada’s “golden years.”
by Eric Uribe
2004 — The Cinderella story
Contrary to popular belief, this was not the Wolf Pack’s first foray into the Big Dance. Nevada qualified for the tournament back-to-back in 1984 and 1985, before bowing out with a double-digit loss in the first round both times. Everyone loves a Cinderella story and in 2004 that story came, courtesy of the Wolf Pack.
Nevada entered the tournament as a 10th seed, an automatic qualifier from winning the Western Athletic Conference Championship with a 22-8 record.
The Wolf Pack drew a first-round matchup with Michigan State and found itself trailing by nine points at halftime. However, behind Nevada guard Kirk Snyder’s 19 points, the Wolf Pack rallied back to upend the Tom Izzo-led Spartans 72-66.
Up next came second-seeded Gonzaga in a game that would springboard Nevada athletics to new heights. Where to start? Kevin Pinkney’s invisible ladder dunk? A 91-72 shellacking that ended a 21-win streak from the Bulldogs? Or Pinkney’s quote to the Associated Press afterward?
“I thought I was going to cry after [beating Michigan State],” Pinkney said. “I really feel like I’m going to cry after this one.”
However, the Wolf Pack’s miraculous run would come to an end in the Sweet Sixteen as Georgia Tech, which wound up in the national championship game, edged the feisty Pack 72-67.
2005 — More magic
The 25-7 Wolf Pack was stunned in the WAC Tournament quarterfinals by Boise State, but garnered an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament nonetheless. At a ninth seed, Nevada drew Texas in the opening round and showed it still had some of its 2004 Tournament magic in the process. Down by four points with a mere two minutes to play, the Wolf Pack scored eight unanswered points to top the Longhorns 61-57.
However, Nevada was no match for eventual national champion runner-up Illinois in a 71-59 second-round exit. The one-seeded Fighting Illini featured four eventual NBA players — Deron Williams, Luther Head, Dee Brown and James Augustine.
2006 — Tasting its own medicine
Nevada received a taste of its own medicine courtesy of a shocking upset at the hands of Montana. The 27-5 Wolf Pack received its largest ever seed in the Tournament at five after winning the WAC Championship. The Grizzlies led wire-to-wire, cruising to a 87-79 win. Despite a 34-point effort from Marcelus Kemp and 24 points from Nick Fazekas, Nevada couldn’t slow down Montana, who shot 52 percent the whole game.
“The madness of March,” Nevada head coach Mark Fox said after the game. “This year we’re on the wrong side of it.”
2007 — The End of an era
In Fazekas’ senior season, the Wolf Pack finished 28-4 before losing in the WAC Championship. Despite the loss, Nevada notched a seventh seed and faced Creighton in the opening round.
With Fazekas not playing like his usual dominant self, the Wolf Pack escaped with a 77-71 overtime victory. Fazekas fouled out in overtime and shot a mere 5-of-13 from the field. Kemp came up the biggest with 27 points, while Ramon Sessions and Kyle Shiloh chipped in 16 and 10 points, respectively.
“I didn’t have any doubts at all that Marcelus and Shiloh and Ramon could take over, and that’s what they did,” Fazekas said. “It’s just good we got one under our belt now.”
Next-up came a close to Nevada’s four-year run of dominance courtesy of John Calipari-led Memphis. The second-seeded Tigers overcame injury to its top scorer Chris Douglas-Roberts to top the Wolf Pack 78-62. The win was Memphis’ 24th in a row and they would not lose until the Elite Eight.
Eric Uribe can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @Uribe_Eric.