It has been a while since the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team has beaten the Wyoming Cowboys.
The Wolf Pack, which will play at Wyoming in Laramie on Wednesday night, hasn’t beaten the Cowboys in 75 years, since the night of Jan. 5, 1938. Franklin Roosevelt was the president of the United States, World War II hadn’t even started and the campus on north Virginia Street still had nearly three decades more to enjoy its standing as the only four-year academic institution in the state.
Wolf Pack basketball was just 26 seasons old when the Pack traveled to Laramie in January 1938 to play the Cowboys. Head coach Doc Martie took his Wolf Pack on what the Nevada State Journal called “the longest barnstorming trip ever taken by the Nevada basketball team” when they left campus in late December.
The Pack would play nine games against six teams over a span of 12 days on a grueling trip through Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. Martie had 20 players trying out for the team but was waiting for their first semester grades to come in to determine which 10 players he would take on the trip.
Martie, in the 14th season of a his 15-year tenure as Pack basketball coach, had a reputation of simply taking the biggest players he could find to make up the bulk of his roster. This year, though, was a bit different.
“A squad of small, fast men now trying out for the team can run the legs off any team in the (Far Western Conference),” Martie told the Journal. “On offense, anyway.”
The speediest Pack player was Walt Powers, a school spring champion on the track team and the father of current Wolf Pack baseball coach Gary Powers.
“Walt Powers is believed to be one of the fastest men on a basketball court in the west,” reported the Journal in December 1937.
The trip began with two games in Boulder. Colo., against the University of Colorado on Dec. 28 and Dec. 29, 1937. The Pack would lose both, falling 51-23 and 61-23 as the offense struggled.
Martie’s Pack, which went 9-8 in the previous season, then evened things up on the trip with a 59-50 win at Denver on New Year’s Day, 1938 and a 39-36 win at Northern Colorado on Jan. 3.
The Wolf Pack then headed north to Laramie for two games with the Wyoming Cowboys on Jan. 3 and 4th, 1938.
The first game was a disaster as the Pack fell behind 17-8 at halftime and lost 39-15. The 15 points were the fewest the Pack had scored in a game since a 29-15 loss at the end of the 1931-32 season at San Francisco. The Pack’s leading scorers in Wyoming were Dick Kolbus and John Etchemendy who each scored just four points.
Things, though, were much different the following night.
The Wolf Pack scored more points (17) in the first half in its second meeting with the Cowboys than it did in the entire game just 14 hours before. The Pack led 17-14 at the break but Wyoming quickly tied it 18-18 in the second half.
Johnny Robb, who went scoreless in the 39-15 loss, hit three field goals in the final minutes as the Pack held off the Cowboys for a 35-32 victory. Robb would finish with 11 points and Kolbus would lead all scorers with 16 points.
“A fighting Nevada basketball team stopped a desperate Wyoming rally here Wednesday night,” reported the Greeley, Colo.) Tribune the day after the game.
The trip would end with a loss at Utah State the following night and a split of a two-game set at BYU for a record of 4-5. The Pack would go on to have a very successful season in 1937-38, finishing 14-7 and setting a school record for victories in a season that wouldn’t be broken (it was tied in 1942-43) until the 1945-36 season.
Martie would coach one more season in 1938-39 (going 6-9) before ending his 15-year Pack career at 129-122. To this day only Jake Lawlor (201 victories) has more career victories as Wolf Pack coach. The award for the outstanding male athlete at Nevada every year is now named after Martie.
Now, 75 years later, the Wolf Pack still has yet to beat Wyoming again.The Wolf Pack and Cowboys have only met seven more times with Wyoming owning an 8-1 edge in the series. The two schools met on Jan. 12 in Reno with Wyoming taking a 59-48 decision.