Freshmen making progress for Nevada

If you are a true Nevada basketball fan, you are certainly excited by the progress Nevada's freshmen are making.

No longer do JaVale McGee, Richie Phillips, Matt LaGrone, Brandon Fields and Tyrone Hanson have the deer-in-the-headlights look when they step on the floor. Oh, they still make mistakes, but those come more from trying to do too much and inexperience. They are more comfortable and more productive and less afraid.

Thursday night was probably the best effort the quintet has put together all season. The unit produced 23 points and nine rebounds, and Nevada coach Mark Fox will take that kind of production any time he can get it.

"They are up and down sometimes," Fox said recently. "They are giving us good minutes and they will continue to get better. They are getting better."

That's because the game is slowing down.

"Yes it has," said LaGrone. "I felt frustrated a little bit at the start of the season. Things are coming easier. The more you do, the better you get at it. As I play more, I know what the team needs me to do."

A reporter asked LaGrone if there is anybody in particular who has helped, and he didn't hesitate in mentioning All-American forward Nick Fazekas.

"I try to follow Nick, and see what he does," LaGrone said. "I hang around primarily."

In LaGrone's case that is play defense. He's averaging 2.2 rebounds a game, which is impressive when you consider he only plays 6.8 minutes a contest. He's worked hard on the offensive glass, and has scored on stickbacks several times.

Fields is averaging 8.8 minutes and Hanson 7.1 per contest. The one thing that has changed is that neither guy, especially at the offensive end, is afraid to take shots.

In fact, over the last three or four games, Hanson has hit some critical 3-pointers. He hit one against Hawai'i toward the end of regulation that tied the game at 48, and his 3-pointer on Thursday increased Nevada's lead to 14.

Fields got to the basket and hit a single free throw to cut Louisiana Tech's lead to 30-28, and then his layup cut the lead to 37-35 in the waning seconds of the first half.

"I feel like I'm more comfortable," Fields said. "At the beginning of the season I wasn't as confident. I expected it to be fast. It's much more fast-paced than high school. The intesnity level is higher. That's the biggest difference."

"My confidence is gaining more and more," Hanson said. "I feel more comfortable at the offensive end, knowing I've been playing better."

McGee is averaging 2.8 points a game and 1.8 rebounds. Despite playing less than 10 minutes a game, he has the second-most blocks (20) on the team. The only knock is that he needs to get better at positioning and footwork at the defensive end, and not just try to block shots. In limited opportunities, he's shooting 57 percent from the field.

Phillips, who has been hampered by injuries ever since he stepped foot on the Nevada campus (shin, finger), gave Nevada some quick bursts of energy which pleased Fox. He is a Lagrone type of player, a guy that will defend and rebound.

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