Cameron Oliver received all the motivation he needed minutes before Saturday’s Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball game.
“It was in the pre-game warmups,” the Wolf Pack freshman said. “She called my name and I’d know that voice anywhere. It was a big surprise.”
With his mother Denita in the Lawlor Events Center stands, Oliver went out and scored a career-high 20 points and pulled down a Mountain West conference games-record 24 rebounds as the Wolf Pack beat the Fresno State Bulldogs, 77-72, in overtime before a crowd of 6,750. “It means everything to have her there,” Oliver said of his mother. “I’m not afraid to say I’m a momma’s boy.”
The 6-foot-8 Oliver is also the biggest reason why the Wolf Pack, now 15-9, 7-5, was able to avenge an 85-63 loss at Fresno State on Jan. 9. Oliver had 11 rebounds and just four points at halftime. “At halftime we saw that he had 11 rebounds and we told him he had to get 20 rebounds for us to win,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said. “He has so much potential, we just always feel we can get so much more from him.”
Not even Oliver is sure he has more than 20 points and 24 rebounds in him on any given night. It was the first 20-20 game of his career, even back through high school at Grant High in Sacramento. “Never in my life,” he said with a smile. “I’m speechless.”
Oliver saved his best for the overtime, scoring five points and grabbing four rebounds in the five-minute extra period. He snatched a rebound after a missed layup by Fresno State’s Cullen Russo and went down to the other side of the court to hit a jumper, tying the game at 70-70 with 2:42 to go. His offensive rebound with 1:03 to play led to a pair of Eric Cooper free throws and a 72-70 Wolf Pack lead with 48 seconds left.
Oliver, whose previous high in rebounds this year was 13 at Hawaii in the third game of the season, then hauled in a rebound after a missed jumper by Fresno’s Marvelle Harris with 35 seconds to play, and the Pack still up two. Oliver’s free throw gave the Pack a 73-70 lead with 32 seconds to play. The power forward then secured the victory for the Wolf Pack with an offensive rebound off a missed free throw by Tyron Criswell with the Pack leading 75-72 with five seconds to go. Oliver then put the game away with a pair of free throws.
“He was big,” said Criswell, who also had a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. “I don’t even know how to say it. It was huge. I’ve never had a teammate do that.”
Oliver’s offense came to life in the second half after the Pack took a 34-28 lead at the break. He scored 11 points in the second half despite missing his first two shots. His jumper in the paint gave the Pack a 36-35 lead with 17:27 to go. Oliver then took over the game midway through the half. His dunk off a feed from Criswell gave the Pack a 43-39 lead with 14:10 to go, his 3-pointer put the Pack up 48-39 a minute later and his jumper made it 50-39 Nevada with 12:28 left.
Oliver’s final two points of the second half came on a layup, giving the Wolf Pack a 59-55 lead with six minutes to play. “Not enough can be said about Cam Oliver,” Musselman said.
“This game shows what I’m capable of doing in this league and in college basketball,” Oliver said.
The Wolf Pack, though, also needed crucial contributions from Oliver’s teammates to hold off the Bulldogs. The Wolf Pack took a 52-39 lead with 12 minutes to play after a couple free throws by Marqueze Coleman but the lead lasted less than five minutes as Fresno went on a stunning 13-0 run to tie the game. Two 3-pointers by Jahmel Taylor and one by Cezar Guerrero keyed the Bulldogs’ run. Another 3-pointer by Taylor also tied the game at 55-55 with 6:42 to play.
“This game was up and down,” Criswell said. “But we stopped them at the right time.”
The Wolf Pack led 63-59 after a jumper in the paint by Coleman with just 1:30 left. The Pack, though, then watched Fresno’s Marvelle Harris drain a 3-pointer to tie the game at 63-63 with 66 seconds to go. Oliver missed a 3-pointer with 45 seconds to go but recovered to pull down the crucial offensive rebound. The Pack, though, then turned the ball over wth 19 seconds to go as D.J. Fenner dribbled the ball off his foot. Taylor, who had 12 points on four 3-pointers, missed a wild 3-pointer as regulation time expired to send the game into overtime.
The Bulldogs, which took a four-game winning streak against the Wolf Pack into Saturday’s game, took a 70-65 lead with 3:51 to go in overtime on a 3-pointer by Sam Bittner and two free throws by Guerrero. “At that point I knew we had to get a bucket, we had to score,” said Fenner, who had a team-high 24 points.
“When they took that lead we looked at the time and we didn’t panic at all,” Criswell said. “We just said, ‘There’s a lot more possessions left in this game.'”
Criswell had a free throw, Fenner had two free throws and Oliver hit a jumper as the Pack scored five points in 50 seconds to tie the game at 70-70. Fresno State would score just two points over the final 3:51 in overtime. “Our group did not celebrate when we took the lead and they stayed composed even when Fresno went up,” Musselman said. “They acted like they’ve been there before.”
The win over Fresno State just might be the Pack’s most significant of the season to date. The Bulldogs beat the Pack by 22 points jut a month ago, leaving a bitter taste in the Pack’s mouths that could only be washed away by a victory on Saturday. “This whole week all we were saying was ‘revenge, revenge,'” Criswell said.
The victory also puts the Wolf Pack is serious contention for second place in the Mountain West along with Fresno State (16-9, 7-5), New Mexico (14-10, 7-4) and Boise State (16-9, 7-5). “This win was against a team that we were looking up at in the standings,” Musselman said. “Our team continues to take steps in the right direction.”
The Wolf Pack will now go on the road to play at San Jose State (Feb. 17) and UNLV (Feb. 20) before returning to Lawlor Events Center on Feb. 24 to host Utah State. “Beating this team means everything,” Criswell said. “When you lose in a big way to a team like we did in Fresno, we just came into this game with a big chip on our shoulder.”
“I think this game was a hurdle for us to get over,” Fenner said. “We were still thinking about what happened in Fresno, how badly they beat us. This was huge for us. It proves to us we can win this conference.”