tapeunit.com Nevada Wolf Pack reporter Joe Santoro takes a look at the Nevada Wolf Pack’s four NCAA Tournament victories between 2004-2007. This is the fourth and final installment of the series and looks back at the Wolf Pack’s 77-71 overtime victory over the Creighton Blue Jays on March 16, 2007 in New Orleans.
The Nevada Wolf Pack basketball program, heading into the 2007 NCAA Tournament, had experienced all sorts of emotions in the tournament over the past three seasons.
The Pack went from becoming the nation’s Cinderella story in 2004 to a feeling of disappointment after losing to No. 1 Illinois in 2005 to a stunning embarrassment after a loss to Montana in the first round in 2006.
The 2007 Tournament had a sense of urgency to it. Nick Fazekas, who seemed to celebrate Western athletic Conference Most Value Player awards on a yearly basis along with Thanksgiving, Christmas and new Year’s, was in his last season for the Pack.
The Pack, winners of 28 games and the No. 7 seed in New Orleans, was actually the favorite in its first game in the tournament against the No. 10 Creighton Blue Jays. The Blue Jays, coached by Dana Altman, were led by center Anthony Tolliver.
The Pack, though, headed into the Creighton game a bit disappointed already. A loss to Utah State in Las Cruces, N.M., a week earlier in the Western Athletic Conference tournament likely cost them a few rungs on the seeding ladder. And, because of it, Creighton was a much tougher team than the Pack should have been playing in Round One.
It wasn’t easy.
Things, though, went well for the Pack early on. They were even getting some scoring out a few supporting characters when Denis Ikovlev hit a 3-pointer and David Ellis connected on a jumper for a 23-16 lead with just under 10 minutes to go in the first half.
The last six-plus minutes of the opening half, however, did not go as planned.
After Ramon Sessions gave the Pack a 25-20 lead with a lay-up with 6:44 to go, the Pack didn’t score for over five minutes, missing its next six shots as Creighton went on a 10-0 run. A 3-pointer by Marcelus Kemp finally cracked the ice for the Pack with 1:27 to go in the half but Creighton still took a 32-31 lead at the intermission.
The rest at halftime seemed to do the Pack some good. Kyle Shiloh and Fazekas each hit 3-pointers as the Pack pulled into a 43-43 tie with just under 14 minutes to play. Fazekas then hit three free throws after a silly foul by Tolliver for a 50-49 Pack lead with 9:40 left.
The Wolf Pack, though, could never pull away. The Pack played a sloppy game, committing 19 turnovers as Fazekas had six turnovers and Kemp had five. Luckily for the Pack, though, Creighton missed 16-of-19 3-pointers in the game or else the Pack might have suffered its second disappointing first-round exit from the tournament.
Creighton scored six quick points in a span of just 46 seconds to take a 57-52 lead with 6:16 to play. Fazekas, though, hit a huge jumper for a 59-59 tie with 2:27 to go for the Pack’s final points in regulation. Creighton had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation but Nate Funk (23 points) missed a jumper with five seconds to play.
The Pack dominated the overtime but there were some tense moments.
Kemp had a lay-up and Fazekas connected o a pair of free throws to give the Pack a 63-59 lead with 3:42 to go as Creighton’s offense had scored just two points over the past 10 minutes (including regulation). Kemp hit another three for a 66-62 lead with 3:21 to go.
Fazekas, though, fouled Tolliver for his fifth foul with 3:06 to play. Tolliver (15 points) made both free throws to cut the Pack lead to just 66-64.
Pack coach Mark Fox then put freshman center JaVale McGee in the game to protect the basket in Fazekas’ absence.
The Wolf Pack then attacked the Blue Jays basket with ease. Shiloh had a lay-up for a 68-64 lead with 2:39 left and Sessions had a pair of lay-up as the Pack took a 72-66 lead with 44 seconds to play.
The Wolf Pack still led 74-69 with 29 seconds left after a pair of free throws by Kemp.
Funk missed a field goal with 24 seconds left, Nick Porter missed a jumper, grabbed the offensive rebound, and the missed a lay-up. Tolliver grabbed that offensive rebound and put back a dunk to cut the Pack lead to 74-71 with 13 seconds to go.
Kemp hit two more free throws for a 76-71 lead with 11 seconds to go. Sessions added a free throw with two seconds left to make the final 77-71.
Kemp controlled the overtime, scoring nine of his 27 points. Fazekas finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and those six turnovers. McGee had five rebounds in just nine minutes. The Pack starters played all but 24 of the 225 available minutes and the bench contributed just four points.
The Wolf Pack committed 13 more turnovers (19-6), had 17 more rebounds (48-31), eight fewer steals (10-2) and eight more blocks (9-1).
The game would turn out to be the final tournament victory for the school at least through the just completed 2012-13 season. The Pack would go on to lose to Memphis two days later in New Orleans and have not been back to the NCAA Tournament since.