FSU coach not surprised to see Nevada in second
By Joe Santoro
Special to the Nevada Appeal
Fresno State Bulldogs coach Steve Cleveland is not surprised to see the Nevada Wolf Pack basketball team up near the top of the Western Athletic Conference.
“Nevada is very, very good,” said Cleveland, whose Bulldogs will host the Wolf Pack tonight (7 p.m., 630-AM) at the Save Mart Center. “Everybody in this league all along knew that Nevada was a team capable of winning this league.”
Winning a sixth consecutive WAC regular season championship might be out of reach for the Wolf Pack (16-10, 8-4). Utah State (12-1 in league), which comes to Lawlor Events Center Saturday night to meet the Pack, needs only to beat Hawaii tonight to clinch the title. But this entire season has always been about playing well going into the league tournament March 10-14 at Lawlor with the conference’s automatic and, likely, only NCAA Tournament bid on the line.
“Nevada is hitting its stride,” said Cleveland, whose team is at the bottom of the nine-team WAC at 2-10 (11-17 overall). “You are not going to play Nevada and play poorly and expect to win.”
The Wolf Pack will take a three-game winning streak into tonight’s game thanks to two road victories over San Jose State and Hawaii and a 71-70 ESPN BracketBuster victory over Virginia Commonwealth at home last Friday.
The Pack’s biggest obstacle tonight just might be inactivity. The Wolf Pack heads to Fresno for tonight’s game having played just one game over the last 11 days. The Pack will now play their final four regular season games over the next 10 days.
“We’re going to have our hands full,” said Fox of the Fresno State game. “They gave us a great game (in Reno) and we know we’ll have to play better if we want to win.”
The Pack beat Fresno 65-60 on Jan. 17 at Lawlor Events Center behind Luke Babbitt’s 22 points. Fresno State freshman Paul George had 16 points and teammate Sylvester Seay had 13.
“Fresno State is extremely young and with any young team, much like our own team, they have continued to get better as the season has progressed,” Fox said.
The Bulldogs feature freshmen Bryce Cartwright, Mychal Ladd and the 6-foot-7 George in the starting lineup and Brandon Sperling off the bench. George averages 15.1 points a game.
“George is a very diverse player,” Fox said. “He’s terrific. He shoots the three very well and he can attack the basket. And he’s only going to get stronger and more durable as he gets older.”
Youth, though, is not unique to the Bulldogs. The Wolf Pack also features two freshmen — Babbitt and Dario Hunt — as well as two sophomores in Armon Johnson and Malik Cooke. There are only 20 seniors in the WAC this year and just eight start.
“The WAC is very young this year,” Cleveland said. “Next year this conference is going to be much improved with more maturity. But even though we’re all young, most every game has been very competitive this year.”
Fox expects that trend to continue tonight.
“Their record is not indicative of how much they’ve improved,” said Fox of Fresno State.