The Sweet 16 for only the second time ever. Two more wins and Nevada earns a ticket to the Final Four.
No wonder coach Eric Musselman is so giddy about a Wolf Pack run for the ages.
“It’s the happiest I’ve ever been in my life,’’ Musselman said after Nevada made history by coming back from 22 points down in the final 11 minutes to stun Cincinnati and earn a berth in the Sweet 16 in Atlanta.
Musselman isn’t the only one happy.
Most of Reno and Sparks cheered along deliriously as the Pack roared back for the most improbable win ever. And Nevada players were positively gleeful after the upset that had the nation buzzing.
“It’s such an unimaginable feeling,’’ Jordan Caroline said.
Next up is Loyola-Chicago, another Cinderella team of sorts in a suddenly wide open South bracket. Unlike the game against Cincinnati, the Pack is favored in this one, with bookies making Nevada a 2.5-point favorite.
Hard to imagine they can match the heart pounding comebacks of the first two games of the tournament, which prompted Musselman to rip off his shirt on the way to the locker room after beating the Bearcats.
Coach works out every morning, so his shirt comes off a lot,’’ Caleb Martin said. “So I know he’s definitely going to use this as an excuse to take it off, show a little bit of his muscle.’’
Cody Martin led Nevada’s furious rally by collecting 25 points, six rebounds and seven assists with no turnovers. His twin brother Caleb tied the game by making a fadeaway 3-pointer from in front of Nevada’s bench with 54 seconds left.
Nevada’s rally came two days after the Wolf Pack erased a 14-point, second-half deficit to beat Texas 87-83 in overtime for its first NCAA Tournament victory since 2007.
“I don’t know. Man, I don’t know what to say,’’ Caleb Martin said. “It’s crazy.’’
Even crazier would be if Nevada kept winning and made a Final Four for the first time ever.
But why stop there? A national championship is in reach with four wins, though bookies make Nevada a 50-1 pick to do that.
But coming out of a South bracket that is wide open without the top four seeds, nothing is too impossible. That being said, Nevada might want to make sure it doesn’t fall too far behind once again.
“I can honestly say we don’t like playing, having to play down that much, by that much,’’ Cody Martin said. “But I guess our team likes to play under pressure, like my brother said. I don’t know. It just shows how hard that we play. At the same time, it’s like — at the same time, like if you’re struggling at the beginning, we weren’t making shots, they make a matchup zone, kind of something that was tricky at first.’’
Remarkably, the Wolf Pack had only two turnovers against one of the nation’s best defensive teams. Just as remarkable, perhaps, is the team that got badly beaten in the Mountain West tournament is only one of 16 teams still alive in the NCAA tournament.
It’s heady territory, but the Pack and their tightly wound coach are happy to be along for the ride.
“We’re just speechless right now,’’ said Josh Hall, whose rebound and shot inside the paint put Nevada ahead for the first time in the game _ and for good. “We’re just really excited to move forward. A lot of people had us losing the Texas game. For us to keep winning, fighting, battling, we can’t keep getting down every game.’’
They can’t, but as close as this team is, nothing is impossible.
“I mean, it’s just the fear of going home. We’re not ready to go home,’’ Caleb Martin said. “So, I mean, we don’t think it’s impossible. That’s why we play so hard.’’