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Fazekas is district player of the year

DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer

RENO – The honors keep pouring in for Nevada junior forward Nick Fazekas.

The 6-11 Nevada star, who was named the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year for the second straight season on Sunday, was named the United States Basketball Writers District 8 Player of the Year, and he was a second-team All-American selection by ESPN.com.

District 8 includes Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Montana.

Fazekas averaged a double-double in 16 conference game, averaging 23 points and 11.5 rebounds per game in leading the Pack to their third straight regular-season title.

“It feels good,” Fazekas said of the District 8 award. “I worked hard to get it.”

“Nick had a terrific season,” Nevada coach Mark Fox said. “He deserves everything he gets.”

Utah State’s Nate Harris and Boise State’s Coby Karl also were named to the District 8 squad.

DIFFERENT NEVADA TEAM

What a difference a year makes.

After listening to the WAC coaches on Monday’s teleconference, at least one WAC coach seemed leery of being on Nevada’s side of the bracket this week.

“They are a more versatile team (this year),” Boise State’s Greg Graham. “They can play big inside with Nick (Fazekas), Demarshay Johnson and Mo (Charlo) and they have guys like (Marcelus) Kemp and (Kyle) Shiloh that can shoot it from the outside.

“They can play big or small. They were more power oriented last year with (Kevinn) Pinkney in there. They were a little bigger and stronger. Last year they were locked into how they were going to play.”

Fox agreed.

“We’re much more versatile,” Fox said. “Last year it was basically two inside people (Fazekas and Pinkney) and nobody else. Like coach (Keith) Richard, I was trying to put more people around Nick Fazekas like he did with Paul Millsap.”

And, the good thing about it is that Fox didn’t have to recruit those players because they were already in the program. Nevada went from being one of the worst 3-point shooting teams (28 percent) to being a respectable 37 percent.

Kyle Shiloh, who was known more for his defense last year, suddenly found the range from outside this year. He averaged 9.3 overall and 11 points in conference play, and his 49 percent from 3-point range was tops among Nevada starters.

The return of Kemp from injury was huge. The 6-5 guard is able to create his own shots and has great 3-point range. He averaged 14.1 per game and made 35 percent of his 3-point shots.

IS THERE A HOMECOURT EDGE? Most coaches consider Nevada the favorite entering into the tournament, but mostly because it is playing well and some in part because the Pack are playing on their home floor.

In the previous 22 WAC Tournaments, a top seed has reached the finals 14 times, but won only eight times. Only six times – Tulsa (2003), UTEP (1984 and 1990), New Mexico (1996), UNLV (1998) and Fresno State (2000) – has the host team won.

Nevada is 14-1 at Lawlor this season, its only loss coming to Utah State on a nationally televised Big Monday game.

“A lot of years the host team hasn’t won it,” Hawai’i coach Riley Wallace said. “Nevada is playing well. If they take one night off, they’re out. There are a lot of good teams out here.”

Tech’s Keith Richard said he wasn’t sure if Nevada had a homecourt advantage.

“When is the last time a champion won on its home court?,” Richard asked. “They are playing awfully good now, and somebody is going to have to play an extremely good game to beat them.”

Fox said there are plusses and minuses to playing at home.

On the positive side, kids can attend classes and get to sleep in their own beds. On the negative side, there is more pressure and you can’t even practice in your own gym.

The bus/car carrying some of Nevada’s players to their Tuesday practice at Bishop Manogue, broke down, and several members of the media were unable to get interviews with certain players.

GOOD BENCH PLAY

Both Chad Bell and Mo Charlo have played well coming off the bench for Nevada.

Bell averages 2.8 points and 2.7 rebounds per game, and Charlo averages 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per outing.

Bell said he’s comfortable in his reserve role that he assumed 11 games ago when Fox opted to move Demarshay Johnson into a starting role.

“It’s very similar to last year,” Bell said. “I’m comfortable with it. It’s good for me. I don’t have a problem with it.”

Charlo has said all along that he’s happy to do whatever it takes to help the team win. He played well the first nine games, but has been up and down offensively since.

“They have been terrific,” Fox said. “They have accepted their roles. They have both been unselfish.”