RENO - After a season-opening road trip that covered nearly 6,000 miles, Nevada players are excited to be in front of the home fans.
Nevada, winners of 15 of 16 games at Lawlor Events Center last season, look to make it 16 of 17 when it hosts Santa Clara tonight at 7:05 p.m. in its 2007-08 home opener.
Lawlor won't be confused with Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke, Phog Allen Fieldhouse at Kansas or The Pit at University of New Mexico, but it is becoming a tough place to play.
"I'm excited for the first home game," said center JaVale McGee. "We're going to try to do our best; try to win. Everybody is excited for you and just as excited as the players. They give you energy."
Nevada coach Mark Fox, whose team is 1-1, has seen a steady increase in attendance and electricity at Lawlor.
"When I was an assistant coach, we looked at 3,000 a game," Fox said. "We finally got to half full, then 8 or 9,000 and last year there were nights where you couldn't get in (sold out). Not only are the seats full, but they are bringing electricity."
In undefeated Santa Clara (2-0), the Pack will face a team it beat 78-70 last season and has a new coach in Kerry Keating, a former assistant at UCLA under Ben Howland.
"They were a very good team last year with a few returning guys and they know how to win," Fox said. "They have a good point guard (Brody Angley) and a good big man (John Bryant)
"We don't have a lot of tape. Obviously they are running different things offensively. Before we knew what to expect from coach (Dick) Davey because he'd been there so long. They are solid at both ends."
Bryant at 6-10 and 305 pounds, is averaging 27.5 a game and shooting 72 percent a contest.
"He's big," Fox said. "He had a double-double against us last year. He's bigger than anybody we have. We'll have to double-team him some."
Bryant's bulk limited his minutes last year, and Keating has put him on a regimen to eat properly.
"If he gets to 270, he'll have a lot more mobiity," Keating said. "He'll be capable of playing more minutes. He will have some inexperience around him (in the starting line-up) next year."
Brody Angley was first in steals and second in assists in the West Coast Conference last season. The Broncos also rely on 6-7 freshman forward Ben Dowdell, a member of the Australia under-19 national team and Mitch Henke, who is averaging 8 a game thus far.
For Keating and the Broncos, this is a definite step up in competition. The Broncos are 2-0 with a win over Division II Cal-State Monterey Bay and Simpson College, an NAIA squad.
"We haven't played a Division 1 school yet, so obviously this is a step up," Keating said. "I think Nevada is a step up because of the success they've had and the support they are getting. This is a great game for us, a gauge to see where we're at. We're at the beginning steps of hopefully someday getting to the level Nevada is at.
"It's a big test. We have a lot of inexperience. Our experienced guys (except for John Bryant) were role players last year. Mark has three seniors (Marcelus Kemp, David Ellis, Demarshay Johnson) that have played in significant games."
Keating was on the UCLA staff when the Pack lost to the Bruins two years ago, said he knows most of Nevada's personnel.
"They are very athletic," Keating said. "That's the first thing you notice. Their starting five is full of athletes. Losing (Ramon) Sessions was a little setback, but they did a nice job filling in with Armon. He was at our camp for two years. I've seen most of their guys play at least at the high school level. JaVale McGee and (David) Ellis are two 7-footers that can shoot the ball with range.
"Our preparation has been intense. The thing I'm concerned with has everything to do with us and not the other team. That changed yesterday (Thursday) when we focused a lot more on Nevada and if we were going to be successful this is what we're going to have to do."