The Nevada Wolf Pack’s accuracy from 3-point range wasn’t the only thing missing in Lawlor Events Center on Tuesday night.
Much of the momentum and support from the fifth largest crowd in Lawlor’s 33-year history from last Saturday’s 65-63 win over UNLV also was nowhere to be found. The Wolf Pack was reminded once again on Tuesday that filling up Lawlor with fans on a consistent basis is just as difficult as trying to make a third of your shots against San Diego State’s suffocating defense.
A crowd of 11,341 showed up last Saturday to boo the UNLV Rebels. Just 6,250 showed up on Tuesday to cheer the Wolf Pack against San Diego State. The drop of 5,091 fans is the biggest for the Wolf Pack in consecutive home games in 15 seasons. A crowd of 9,052 witnessed the Wolf Pack beating UNLV (80-71) on Dec. 9, 2000 and just 2,933 showed up two days later to see the Pack lose to Montana State (83-74) for a decrease of 6,119.
Since that decrease of over 6,000 fans from one home game to the next in December 2000, the Pack has seen its attendance drop by as much as 4,000 or more fans in one home game just four times until Tuesday night:
- 10,526 showed up on Dec. 31, 2008 to see North Carolina and 6,064 saw the Pack against Idaho on Jan. 3, 2009 for a decrease of 4,462.
- UNLV drew 11,368 fans on Dec. 9, 2006 and St. Mary’s attracted 6,954 three days later for a dip of 4,414.
- A crowd of 11,784 saw the Pack against Fresno State on Jan. 29, 2005 and 7,497 saw the Pack play SMU on Feb. 3, 2005, a drop of 4,287.
- Kansas drew 10,983 fans to Lawlor on Dec. 21, 2003 while UC Davis attracted 6,794 six days later for a decrease of 4,189.
A dip in attendance from last Saturday to Tuesday night was expected simply because UNLV for a 7 p.m. on Saturday night will typically outdraw San Diego State on a Tuesday night with an 8 p.m. start.
But a decrease of over 5,000 fans was a bit surprising for a lot of reasons. First of all, going from UNLV to San Diego State isn’t exactly the same as going from Kansas to UC Davis, UNLV to Montana State or North Carolina to Idaho. San Diego State leads the Mountain West and is a better basketball team than UNLV. San Diego State has been arguably the best basketball team in the Mountain West since the Pack joined the conference three years ago. San Diego State is what the Pack hopes to be someday soon.
The game on Tuesday night also had the luxury of having all of the excitement, buzz and momentum from the thrilling victory on Saturday night over UNLV. It also took place a mere 72 hours or so removed from that glorious victory over UNLV. Nobody expected another 11,000 fans on Tuesday but a decrease in attendance of 45 percent was a bit stunning, given all of that buzz, excitement and apparent momentum over the previous 72 hours.
Looking back, however, it is obvious that the stunning attendance was not Tuesday night against San Diego State. A crowd of over 6,000 fans at Lawlor Events Center is not anything to sneeze at in recent years. San Diego State, after all, only drew 5,832 fans to Lawlor the last time they came to northern Nevada on Feb. 4, 2015.
The surprising attendance was the 11,341 that showed up to see UNLV on Saturday night. What is surprising is not that a large crowd came to see UNLV. The Rebels almost always attract a large crowd to Lawlor. UNLV is the Pack’s biggest rival and Rebel fans always travel well to northern Nevada.
But 11,341 was a little out of the blue.
It is the largest crowd to see a Pack-Rebel game in Reno since the 11,368 showed up on Dec. 9, 2006. But that was at the height of the Wolf Pack’s NCAA tournament years. The Pack was 7-0 and UNLV was 7-1 going into that game in 2006. The Wolf Pack was coming off of three consecutive NCAA tournament seasons. Crowds of over 10,000 had filled Lawlor nine times in the previous three seasons. The coaches were Nevada’s Mark Fox and UNLV’s Lon Kruger. UNLV beat the Pack that night (58-49) and would start the year 18-2 and end up playing in the NCAA tournament. The Pack that season was also destined for the NCAA tournament. A crowd of 11,000-plus on that December evening in 2006 was a surprise to nobody.
The 11,000-plus that showed up on Saturday was eye opening. The Pack was just 11-7 and UNLV was just 12-7 going into the game. UNLV had just fired head coach Dave Rice two weeks earlier and was seemingly mired in a transition year. The team was being guided by interim coach Todd Simon, a name unknown to everyone but UNLV’s most devoted fans just a month earlier. The Pack hadn’t made the NCAA tournament in nine years and UNLV had been to just one tournament in the last four years. The Pack had even lost its last home game to Boise State.
But something prompted 11,000-plus fans to venture out into the January night air to watch the Pack and Rebels. It was the perfect storm of Pack support. All of the stars lined up for one magical night and the Wolf Pack rewarded all of that support with a victory. For one mystical, turn-back-the-clock evening, it was 2004-07 all over again in Lawlor Events Center.
It was fun while it lasted, even if it lasted just 72 hours.