RENO - Nevada has a big hole to fill at forward alongside Nick Fazekas, and senior Denis Ikovlev enjoyed a successful audition.
Ikovlev started inside, scoring 13 points and grabbing five rebounds in 17 minutes to help Nevada grab a 93-77 exhibition win over Chico State Tuesday night at Lawlor Events Center before an announced crowd of 3,201.
Ikovlev improved immensely in the off-season, and his solid practice performance couldn't be passed up by head coach Mark Fox.
"When he was writing my name on the board next to who I was going to guard," Ikovlev said when asked when he found out he was starting. "I've been playing hard in practice, so I thought I had a good chance to start.
"I'm not sure (if I'll start again). It depends on practice I guess. We'll have to take it game by game."
It was thought that Fox would either go with junior 7-footer David Ellis or one of the three freshmen - Matt LaGrone, Richie Phillips or JaVale McGee.
"He (Ikovlev) practiced the best," Fox said. "He was the most consistent. He's played there (power forward) some the last couple of days and performed well. He's confident.
"We might do it (play four perimeter players) quite a bit. A lot of teams play that way. Mo (Charlo) and Jermaine (Washington) did it. I don't know if we ever started the game like that before."
Fox said he and the coaching staff got a lot out of the exhibition game. He said they will have plenty of information to go over before Friday's official season-opener against University of Alaska-Anchorage. Eleven of the 13 players played double-digit minutes.
"Everyone got their share of minutes," said Fox.
Fox was unhappy with his team's defense early, especially on the perimeter. Chico State hit its first four 3-point shots, including one by Andy Bocian with 10:17 left that gave the Division II Wildcats a 24-23. That was the last time the Wildcats led.
Nevada went on a 21-2 run over a 5-minute 20-second stretch to take a 44-26 lead with 4:58 remaining.
'We started playing defense," Fox said. "They hit five threes in their first six shots before we finally decided to defend. Our defense enabled us to go on that run."
"We made those threes and they got a little aroused and started guarding us," Chico State coach Puck Smith said. "I would expect that from a team like that. Their outside shooting surprised me. I thought they would get the ball inside more. They made some tough shots."
Marcelus Kemp (18 points) drained a deep 3-pointer to make it 26-23, igniting the charge. Then it was a barrage of three-point plays, as Brandon Fields (7 points) drove the baseline, was fouled and dropped in the free throw. Less than 30 seconds later, Ramon Sessions (7 points, 9 assists) stole a ball near the Nevada basket and filled the lane for a layup and hit the ensuing free throw after being fouled. Lyndale Burleson made a length-of-the-court pass to Fields, who jammed it home for a 34-24 lead with 8:06 left.
Phillips scored on a putback, was fouled and nailed the free throw to make it 37-24.
Justin Argenal broke the Chico drought, but Nevada went on a 7-0 run to take the 44-26 lead. Ikovlev, who scored 10 first-half points, drained three free throws in that span.
Buckets by Argenal (18 points), Shane Bradley and Jon Baird sliced Nevada's lead to 61-48 with 14:59 left in the game. Nevada went on a 17-4 run to make it 78-52 with 10:26 left, as Kyle Shiloh (12 points) knocked down two 3-pointers, Ikovlev threw in a 3-pointer and Kemp connected from the right side.
That was essentially it. The only starter to play in the last 10 minutes was Kemp, and he played about a minute or so longer before retiring to the bench.
All in all, both Fazekas and Kemp thought it was a pretty decent performance.
"It's a good starting point," said Fazekas, who scored 10 points, pulled down 11 rebounds and blocked five shots. "An exhibition game like this, you want to establish a flow. It was a good overall game."
"We played a lot better in the second half," Kemp said. "We need to get better on defense."
No doubt Fox will second that emphatically.