Illustration by Zak Brady/Nevada Sagebrush

Illustration by Zak Brady/Nevada Sagebrush

Nevada’s 65-63 win over the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels last Saturday was more than just a great win for the upstart Wolf Pack. It was also the program’s fourth win in the last six meetings.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Most fans would believe that there is no possible explanation from God or man why Nevada has won four out of six games against a rival with more money, tradition, support and almost every other advantage desirable.

Yet here we are.

The resounding theme in the postgame press conference from the team was that Wolf Pack basketball owns this rivalry. Senior point guard Marqueze Coleman made it clear in the microphone and on Twitter with the phrase “This is OUR state!”

A bold claim to be sure, but is it true? If any game is an indication of the Wolf Pack being the top dog in the state of Nevada, it is last Saturday’s. Unlike some wins in recent years where many perceived them to maybe be a fluke, this game isn’t one of them. Nevada was the better team that night.

The way both programs look from the outside, it is clear that Nevada is the one headed in the right direction. Nevada is blessed with the steady hand of Athletic Director Doug Knuth, who seems to hit a home run with every hire he makes. UNLV’s Athletic Director Tina Kunzer-Murphy on the other hand continues to run a dysfunctional program. After signing Rice to a two-year extension back in 2014, she showed him the door. Former head football coach Bobby Hauck was given a three-year extension in January of 2014 before leaving the program. As if this wasn’t enough, former baseball coach Tim Chambers was given a five-year extension in 2014.

He made it all the way to December of 2015 before resigning after being arrested for a DUI in October. A tornado of bad contracts and chaotic situations surrounds Kunzer-Murphy’s record.

Nevada’s next advantage is coaching. First-year head coach Eric Musselman did not have the elite recruits that UNLV had on Saturday, but he completely out-coached Rebel interim head coach Todd Simon. The Rebels held a huge advantage in terms of size with 7-foot McDonald’s All-American Stephen Zimmerman and 6-foot-9 forward Ben Carter, yet Nevada won the rebounding battle 41 to 34. Musselman had 6-foot-3 senior guard Tyron Criswell guarding Zimmerman and Criswell held him to seven points. In short, Musselman made the necessary adjustments and UNLV didn’t.

The only advantage that UNLV has on Nevada right now is the talent on the roster, but Musselman is proving to be one of the best recruiters in the Mountain West Conference. Nevada just signed the No. 35 ranked class in the country and second in the conference with two four-star prospects on Rivals.com in the 2016 class. The thing about recruiting is that it only gets easier the more you win. If Musselman can lead a team of unproven freshman and leftovers from the David Carter era over a Rebel team filled with four- and five-star recruits, then what is this rivalry going to look like when Musselman has his own four-star players? Highly touted transfers Marcus Marshall and Jordan Caroline are eligible for the 2016-2017 season, and they will be joined by four-star prospects Devearl Ramsey and Joshua Hall.

Is the Wolf Pack the clear-cut team of the state? Nevada is 4-2 in the last six games while outperforming higher-rated players and having superior leadership at head coach and athletic director. Nevada has owned this rivalry, and here’s the best part: This is just the beginning.

Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at neil@sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @NP_Healy.