Ikovlev has raised his game for Nevada | NevadaAppeal.com

Ikovlev has raised his game for Nevada

Appeal Sports Writer

There were more than a few eyebrows raised when Nevada senior Denis Ikovlev started the exhibition opener against Chico State earlier this month.

The Ukraine-born Ikovlev hadn’t made a huge splash last season, averaging 1.8 points and 1.0 rebounds in 23 games (7.8 minutes per game), but he has been a pleasant surprise this season.

The 6-7 Ikovlev, who is expected to start tonight at power forward when the 20th-ranked Wolf Pack (7 p.m., Channel 21) visit Santa Clara, has averaged 6.3 points and 4.3 rebounds a game and is shooting 53 percent.

Nevada coach Mark Fox used the term “paralysis by analysis” when referring to Ikovlev last season. Simply put, Ikovlev was thinking too much instead of just playing, and he just seemed to be confused at times and a step slow at others.

“I think he’s made the adjustment,” Fox said. “It’s his second year, and the game has slowed down. I’m hoping he continues to build on his performance. He’s been working extremely hard in practice.”

Ikovlev said it was a combination of working hard over the summer, and continuing those efforts when practice started this fall. That effort is what has earned Ikovlev these early starts.

“It was mostly mental,” Ikovlev said. “I continued to work on my shooting, and I just tried to be more aggressive on defense and with my rebounding when I played in pick-up games over the summer.

“It was pretty frustrating last year. It’s hard to sit on the bench when you are used to playing all the time like I did. I hated it, but I learned a lot. It was a big transition from junior college. I came from a small junior college Ellsworth, Iowa), and then coming here and playing against guys like Mo (Charlo) and Marcelus (Kemp), each day was a tough adjustment.”

Ikovlev said that he worked out a few times at the “4” spot when practices got under way, and his work ethic, improved aggressiveness and outside shooting earned him the spot over sophomore David Ellis and freshman JaVale McGee. He’s currently playing 23 minutes per game.

The Pack senior actually played some power forward when he was in junior college and high school. He averaged 17 points a game his sophomore year in junior college and 15.2 his freshman season. What attracted Nevada to him was his ability to shoot from the outside, and that’s one thing he’s been able to continue to do at this level.

What he knows he has to do is keep working hard to hold off Ellis, who has been doing a steady job coming off the bench.

“I know I’ll always have to fight for that spot,” Ikovlev said. “I’m learning everyday, and working hard so I can earn the job. I’m just going to keep playing hard whenever I’m out there.”

• Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281

NEVADA (4-0) at SANTA CLARA (2-1)

When: Tonight, 7 p.m.

Where: Leavey Center (4,500)

TV: KAME Channel 21

RADIO: ESPN Radio 630 AM (Chris Healy play-by-play), pregame at 6:30 p.m.

STARTERS: NEVADA – F Nick Fazekas (24.3), Denis Ikovlev (6.3); G Marcelus Kemp (21.0), Ramon Sessions (11.3), Kyle Shiloh (8.5); SANTA CLARA – F Sean Denison (16.0), Mitch Henke (8.3); C John Bryant (7.3); G Brody Angley (6.7), Danny Pariseau (7.3)