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Wolf Pack making Lawlor the place to be once again

The Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball team is meaningful once again.
The Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball team is meaningful once again.
Nevada Media services

Hey, northern Nevada, most of you are missing a heck of a party.

The Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball team is quietly making Lawlor Events Center the place to be this winter. The Wolf Pack fan base, though, isn't quite so sure this basketball team is worth venturing out into the cold.

Just 6,142 showed up Saturday night to see the Pack beat Utah State 62-54. And even that number is vastly inflated since the Wolf Pack releases an attendance number based on tickets sold (or given away, torn, lost, stepped on, smeared with taco sauce, etc). In reality, the out-dated Lawlor cement circle out on north Virginia Street was basically half full.

That has been the case all season long.

For the record, the biggest crowd this season, according to the university's misleading figures, was 7,141 against Long Beach State on Dec. 28. But, again, the place was a little more than half full. The Pack lost to Long Beach that night and sold just 5,740 tickets for the Wyoming game at home six days later.

This Wolf Pack basketball team deserves more support than a half-full barn. It's time Lawlor starts rocking on cold winter nights again, the way it did a decade ago when the program was going to the NCAA Tournament.

The Pack drew an average of 8,903 fans in its last NCAA tournament year in 2006-07. To be sure, nobody is expecting consistent crowds like that again this year. Not yet, at least. That was the fourth year of a four-year dance party. Northern Nevada's basketball community woke up three years earlier when the team went to the Sweet 16 in March 2004. And while it had to get a wake-up call every year after that, Lawlor was clearly the place to be from 2004-07.

Look, this is nothing new. Pack fans always need to be reminded why they should buy basketball tickets every year. It happened in all four of the NCAA Tournament years. It happened in 2011-12 when the Pack was coming off a 13-18 season. In 2011-12 the first big crowd didn't show up until the 16th game of a 16-game winning streak (9,988 against Utah State).

That's just the reality of Wolf Pack basketball. It takes a while for the crowds to warm up every year. But when they do, when Lawlor is jumping and swaying, well, it's a wonderful place to spend a cold winter's night.

Remember 2004-07? Pack basketball was meaningful. It was exciting. It gave the entire community a sense of pride. Pack basketball was worth talking about while standing around the water cooler.

Well, guess that? That is happening again.

After a full year's hibernation, the Wolf Pack has opened its eyes and emerged from its deep sleep once again. The team has won four games in a row. It is in first place in the Mountain West at 4-0. It has actually won two games in a row at home, beating Wyoming and Utah State, two teams it hasn't beaten much in its history.

The Pack, believe it or not, is on a path to go back to the NCAA Tournament. And, years from now, you'll want to tell your grandchildren you saw it coming.

Look, make no mistake, nobody is blaming northern Nevada for leaving Wolf Pack basketball off its to-do list this winter. The team was awful last year, losing 19-of-31 games and 15-of-18 starting on New Year's Eve. The Pack last year didn't deserve your support. The team didn't play hard, it didn't play smart and half the roster, like most of northern Nevada, seemingly didn't even want to be at Lawlor on most nights.

Worst of all, they were boring.

And, well, boring, selfish and lazy is no way to sell tickets.

So, yes, you were right to stay away from Lawlor at the start of this season. And, well, you did stay away. The Pack didn't sell as many as 6,000 tickets for any of its first five home games and that was coming off a boring, losing football season. There really wasn't more than 4,000 people in the Lawlor seats for any of those first five games, no matter what the crowd figures said.

And the Pack deserved that lack of support. The Pack lost seven of its first 11 games and three of its first four at home. There was absolutely no homecourt advantage. They lost to Omaha and Morehead State at home, for goodness sake. Players were seemingly always hurt, sick and ineligible. The program seemed to be stuck in the mud. Coach David Carter didn't seem to have any answers.

The Wolf Pack could have released an attendance figure based on people who had simply heard of Wolf Pack basketball -- let alone cared about it -- and it still wouldn't have filled the old cement circle.

Then something happened. Nobody still is sure exactly what. A cocky kid from back east named West with a penchant for blocking shots, rebounding and sticking an elbow or two in an opponent's back joined the roster on Dec. 22. And everything seemed to fall into place. The Pack has won five of six games since A.J. West put on a uniform and, well, boring has been replaced by excitement.

There is a buzz in the rafters at Lawlor again.

West seems to be the Wolf Pack's ruby red slippers. Ever since they slipped him on, something magical has happened. The team is no longer boring. The team is no longer selfish. The team is no longer lazy. The team is no longer losing. The coach is no longer out of answers.

There's a cockiness, a toughness, an attitude now surrounding the Wolf Pack. Every single player on the roster has gotten better in the last six games. Carter has gotten smarter. Opponents are now coming into Lawlor and expecting to lose. Well, if they aren't, they should be.

And you don't want to miss it.

This team deserves your support.

More importantly, this team needs your support.

Remember the NCAA Tournament? Yes, it still goes on every March. It didn't end in 2007. The Wolf Pack's NCAA dreams are not just a dream. They can be reality. Last year five Mountain West teams went to the NCAA Tournament. That probably won't happen again this year. Three or four is a more realistic number.

But the Pack is clearly one of the top three or four teams in the league. Heck, right now, they are one of the top two along with San Diego State. At 9-8, the Pack needs to start winning in bunches. There is no such thing as a good loss when you are 9-8. You need a whole lot of bad wins.

Four in a row is a good start. But it's just a start. This team needs to get to 20 victories before the NCAA Tournament selection committee will even look at them.

It can happen.

The Pack has 14 regular season games remaining plus at least one in the conference tournament. They only have to win 11 of the 15 to get to 20. But that might not be enough, especially if all 11 come in the regular season. The Pack needs to get to the Mountain West title game to punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

It can happen.

With your help.

The Pack needs Lawlor to be an extraordinary homecourt advantage. There are seven home games left. Six of those need to end in a Pack victory. It all starts Tuesday night against Boise State at home.

Fill the old cement circle on Tuesday night. Sit up in the rafters and yell "Brotzman, Brotzman, Brotzman!" Wear your Colin Kaepernick jersey. Wear your Nick Fazekas jersey. Get in on the ground floor of the Pack's return to the NCAA Tournament. Party like it is 2007 all over again.

After all, it just might be.

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