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Zoe Malen / Nevada Sagebrush

The Nevada men’s basketball team handled their in-state rival, the UNLV Rebels, in a 75-65 home win on March 9. The win locks the Wolf Pack into second place in the Mountain West Conference regular season standings, with an overall record of 26-6 and 13-5 in conference play.

Jarod Lucas, Nevada guard, opened the scoring for one last time at Lawlor. An errant pass by the Rebel’s first possession from Rob Whaley Jr., UNLV forward, wound up in the hands of Kenan Blackshear, Nevada guard, who passed to Lucas for a fast break three in the first 30 seconds.

The senior guards continued to have their way with the UNLV defense. Blackshear once again found Lucas open in the corner, this time for a long two, which saw the Pack take an early 5-0 lead as 18:46 remained in the half.

Despite early struggles, the Rebels made it on the board as they spaced out Wolf Pack defenders for a quick three-pointer from Keylan Boone, UNLV forward. 

However, the Pack responded on their next possession as K.J. Hymes, Nevada forward, converted on a tough layup as he maneuvered through two UNLV defenders for the bucket. After a missed three from Boone, Lucas was fouled on the Pack’s next drive, which allowed him to sink two free throws. 

In a familiar sequence, a Boone turnover resulted in another opportunity for Nevada. For the third time in less than five minutes, Blackshear dished a pass out to Lucas who nailed his second three-pointer of the day. Shots continued to fall for the Pack, as Nick Davidson, Nevada forward, zipped a pass from the opposite side of the court to Tre Coleman, Nevada forward, who buried a contested triple. Nevada capped off a 10-0 run to lead 15-3 as 15:00 remained.

Down early, the Rebels seemed to settle into the game as Luis Rodriguez, UNLV guard, put in a reverse layup to end the scoring drought. Dedan Thomas Jr, UNLV guard, converted on a one-handed layup of his own over Coleman and was fouled for an and-one. The Rebels began to chip away at the lead, but Nevada still led 17-8 with 14:15 to go.

After a layup from Davidson, the Pack made uncharacteristic mistakes, with turnovers and unnecessary fouls. The Rebels took full advantage and converted on their free throw opportunities. In this sequence, Boone got out of his slump, putting in a layup and a jumper to cut the lead to five.

In need of a response, Tyler Rolison, Nevada guard, answered. McIntosh snagged an offensive rebound and found the guard open from beyond the arc for a triple to put the Pack up 22-14 as 11:05 remained.

Buckets were traded back and forth. Blackshear made his way onto the scoreboard, scoring back-to-back contested layups and driving to the paint for a hard-fought layup. The guard delivered a fourth assist to Lucas on a play that spaced out the entire Rebel defense for a wide-open three. 

Despite the Pack’s explosive plays on offense, the Rebels continued to remain in the game. Boone and Thomas Jr. combined for 21 points in the first half as UNLV matched Nevada down the stretch. Rob Whaley Jr., UNLV forward, connected on a turnaround jumper to close out the first half, knocking Nevada’s lead down to 39-31.

The Pack held an eight point lead at halftime, the sixth game in a row where they carried a lead into the second half. Lucas led both sides at halftime with 15 points and three rebounds as Nevada shot a collective 13-24 from the field.

The intensity continued to rise in the second half as Kalib Boone, UNLV forward, laid the ball off the backboard, and into the basket for a quick score. Davidson responded on the Pack’s next possession, working around the defense for a layup of his own. 

Nevada’s backcourt of Blackshear and Lucas picked up right where they left off, as Blackshear connected with Lucas for a fifth time right after Davidson’s layup. Lucas splashed another jumper to put the Pack up 43-33 in the opening two minutes

However, the Rebels continued to climb their way back into the game, as Keylan Boone and Thomas Jr. kept the offense afloat. Thomas Jr. floated in a layup along with a jumper and Boone knocked down two three-pointers. Over the sequence, UNLV narrowed the margin to 47-43 with 13:25 to play.

As Nevada’s offense slowed down, their mistakes piled up. A turnover from Hymes and a foul on McIntosh allowed Justin Webster, UNLV guard, to sink two free throws and knock the Wolf Pack’s lead down to one possession.

Lucas was short on a three-pointer, which allowed Boone to snag the defensive rebound. On the fast break opportunity, Boone nailed his third consecutive three-pointer. UNLV capped off a 15-4 run and took its first lead of the game since the opening minute at 48-47 with 11:58 on the clock.

In need of a response, Coleman attempted to drive to the rim before being fouled by Isaiah Cottrell, UNLV forward. Coleman knocked down his two free throws to put the Pack back up by one. 

Momentum slowed down for the Rebels, which the Pack took advantage of. On their next four possessions, Blackshear ran down the court for a layup, Rolison connected for a long two and a layup. Lucas drained his fourth three-pointer of the night. This helped the Pack bolster their lead back to eight points. Nevada led 58-50 with 6:59 left.

Both sides exchanged free throws over the remainder of the game, as the Pack went 11-12 from the line. Two successful free throws from Daniel Foster, Nevada guard, extended the lead by as many as 12, as Nevada closed out their rival UNLV with a final score of 75-65.

“Steve Alford, head coach of the Nevada men’s basketball team, said the team laid a great foundation in the previous year. 

“And now we’re 26-6,13-5 in this league. We’ve won seven in a row and 10 out of 11,” Alford said. “I couldn’t be more happy for these guys. They busted their tail on and off the court. They represented us the way we want to be represented.”

On their senior night, Lucas and Blackshear combined for 42 points in their last game at Lawlor. Lucas scored 26 points alongside three rebounds and Blackshear tallied 16 points to go with nine assists. 

In limited minutes, McIntosh and Foster contributed six points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals for Nevada.

“Coming in off the bench, trying to bring that energy on both ends of the floor, and making the right play is my role,” Foster said. “Boxing out or trying to get the layup — I embraced trying to do whatever I can to help the team win.”

Lucas commented on the impact Foster has had on the program as the “glue guy” during the press conference.

“This is probably the best glue guy in the country,” Lucas said. “It’s rare to have someone like Daniel. All of us and the rest of the team are so grateful because not everyone is willing to accept that role in D1 basketball.”

Outside of the seniors, Davidson notched a double-double, with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Coleman also pitched in with seven points alongside seven rebounds in the Pack’s win.

McIntosh discussed how he feels about the support that the Reno community provides to the team.

“It’s been great, the love and support from the community on and off the court,”  McIntosh said. “This community is special, they care about sports, but they care about us as people as well. That support goes a lot further than people realize.”

Nevada is on a tear as they head into the Mountain West tournament. The Pack is riding a conference-best seven-game win streak after their season sweep of UNLV, their first since the 2020-2021 season.

“We’re on a mission,” Blackshear said. “We’re still on that mission right now. I don’t want this to end. I love these guys and I just want to keep playing with them. God takes us how far we can go and we’ll keep staying together.”

The Wolf Pack clinched the second seed in the Mountain West tournament with the win as the program finished tied for the second-best record in the conference with Boise State. This gives them a first-round bye, and they will play the winner of the Colorado State vs San Jose State game, both teams that Nevada swept in the regular season.

Also, with their most recent win against UNLV and a win earlier in the week against Boise State, the Wolf Pack men’s basketball team was ranked No. 23 in the AP Top 25 polls. This is the first time the program has been ranked since the 2018-19 season. Nevada sat at No. 26 the week before.

The Pack now looks to Las Vegas, where they will prepare to face either the Spartans or the Rams in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference tournament on March 14 at 6 p.m.

James Wolfgang Perez can be reached via email or via Twitter @JamesWPerezUNR

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