The Spanish Springs boys basketball team has put itself in a pretty sweet spot.
The Cougars cruised past Reno at home on Friday night, 73-58, and now own a three-game lead over the Huskies for first place in the High Desert League with just six games left.
Barring an epic collapse down the stretch, the Cougs will also likely own the tiebreaker over Reno thanks to a sweep of the six Sierra League teams. In essence, Spanish Springs owns a four-game lead with six games left. It’s hard to see Spanish Springs losing two more games this season, let alone four.
So what does it all mean?
Well, to state the obvious, the Cougs are on the verge of just the second league title in program history. But this team has loftier expectations than winning the HDL.
It’s not time yet, but at some point, the team will shift its focus to the 4A North regional tournament. Spanish Springs is yet to win a regional title. Then again, no Spanish Springs team has been this talented.
If the Cougs hang on and win the league title, they would host the Sierra League No. 4 seed in the quarterfinals – avoiding Carson, Galena and Bishop Manogue – on Feb. 14.
Again, if they can advance, they would play the winner the Sierra League No. 2 and the HDL No. 3 for a spot in the regional title game. It would be Spanish Springs’ second regional title game appearance ever.
In 2014, they lost to Reno in the regional title game, 51-48. The game was played in Spanish Springs. The semifinals and title game will be played at Carson this winter.
There is a lot of basketball to be played, and Spanish Springs’ depth could take a hit with a key starter missing Friday’s win over Reno for an unknown reason, but this is clearly the team to beat in the 4A North.
The Cougars are the last team in the 4A North without a regional loss.
Nevada’s margin of error shrinking
We’ve learned a lot about Nevada this year.
Marcus Marshall’s range extends beyond the doors at Lawlor Events Center. Jordan Caroline is the energizer bunny. And it doesn’t like playing Fresno.
The Bulldogs completed the season sweep of Nevada on Saturday afternoon, handing the Wolf Pack its first home loss of the season, 81-76.
With the frustrating defeat, Nevada dropped into a tie with Boise State for first place in the Mountain West. Nevada plays at Boise State on Wednesday and needs to turn in one of its strongest efforts of the year to avoid a two-game conference skid.
On a larger scale, the loss is another blow the Wolf Pack’s NCAA Tournament at-large aspirations.
After second loss to Fresno, Nevada no longer receiving votes in AP Top 25. Team still got one vote in USA Today Coaches Poll.
— Nathan Shoup (@Trib_Shoup) January 23, 2017
Nevada wasn’t going to run through conference play with just one loss. It’s likely not going to end 16-2, either. There aren’t any great teams in the Mountain West, but there are a lot of respectable ones: Boise State, New Mexico, San Diego State, Wyoming, and Fresno – apparently.
Collectively, however, the conference is going through a lull. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than the tournament champion advancing to the NCAA Tournament – even Nevada.
Fresno simply isn’t relevant (on a national scale) and now Nevada has two losses to the Bulldogs, including one at home. The Bulldogs entered Saturday’s contest with an RPI of 124.
The win was Fresno’s first on the road in conference play. It had losses at San Jose State and Air Force. Those Spartans and Falcons have a combined two other Mountain West wins.
Nevada’s RPI dropped from 30 to 43 with the defeat.
Maybe Nevada goes on a special run and puts itself in the at-large conversation. I wouldn’t count on it. It’s already had to pull out a miracle at New Mexico and sweat out wins over San Diego State and Air Force. Without any marquee (possible) wins left on the schedule, each loss will only be a resume stain.
It may be Mountain West Tournament title or bust for the 2016-17 Wolf Pack.
Whitehead joining the Pack
Former Reed girls soccer standout Kennady Whitehead is transferring to Nevada, where she will be eligible immediately.
Whitehead will have two years of eligibility for the Wolf Pack, after finishing a stint at Peninsula College, a junior college in Port Angeles, Wash.
Former Reed girls soccer standout Kennady Whitehead is transferring to Nevada – eligible immediately. She played JC ball @ Peninsula (Wash.)
— Nathan Shoup (@Trib_Shoup) January 22, 2017
Whitehead scored one goal and assisted on two others this fall for the Pirates, who went 19-1-1 and won the Northwest Athletic Conference title.
At Peninsula, Whitehead played with another former Reed player, Isabel Vega, as well as former Spanish Springs phenom, Aubrey Barham.
A 2014 Reed graduate, Whitehead was named the High Desert League Midfield Player of the Year her senior campaign.
She will join another one of her former high school teammates, Aubrie Ciesnynski, at Nevada. Ciesynski will be a senior defender this fall.
Nevada went 5-13 last fall – finishing 11th in the Mountain West.
Nathan can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His weekly column, ‘Shoup Shots,’ was named the best column in the state of Nevada (community division) by the Nevada Press Association. It runs in the hard copy of the Sparks Tribune every Tuesday morning.