Nevada beats Idaho
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – Nevada basketball coach Mark Fox played musical chairs with his nine-man rotation, knowing full well that to win the three-day grind known as the Western Athletic Conference Tournament, he has to keep his team fresh.
The constant shuttling of players in and out cost the 24th-ranked Pack a lot of rhythm, especially at the offensive end of the floor.
The result was an uninspired 68-55 triumph over Idaho in the WAC men’s quarterfinals Thursday night at Lawlor Events Center.
Nevada is 25-5 and has won 12 straight games, the longest win streak since the 1965-66 team won 17 straight. The Pack play tonight at 8:30 in the semifinals against New Mexico State, a 58-57 winner over Hawai’i.
“We didn’t play particularly well,” said Fox, who notched his 50th career win. “We made enough plays to win. We just didn’t have a lot of energy. It’s difficult to play a team a third time when you’ve had the kind of year Idaho had. Fortunately we won the game and moved on.
“I wanted to play as many guys as I could. I wanted to make sure everybody played double-digit minutes and that nobody played more than 25, and we accomplished that.”
Fox said it was hard on the players, and Nick Fazekas, who scored 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds, agreed.
“It’s hard to get in rhythm,” said Fazekas, who scored 20 points to move into second place on the all-time scoring list behind Edgar Jones. “It was hard for us to really get something going.”
Indeed. The game was void of the huge surges Nevada is famous for.
The biggest Nevada run was eight which helped the Pack to a 14-point first-half lead, 24-10.
Demarshay Johnson (11 points) followed in a Ramon Sessions’ misfire, and after Idaho went 0-for-3 on its next possession, Marcelus Kemp (14 points) drove the lane for a score. After an Idaho turnover, Sessions scored on a drive to the basket. Mo Charlo (10 points) completed the surge with two free throws .
Nevada kept the lead between nine and 11 points most of the first half. Five points by Kemp in the final 1:59 enabled the Pack to grab a 35-23 lead after the first 20 minutes.
Only the offensive play of David Dubois, who went 5-for-9 from the field, kept the Vandals in the game. Dubois was held scoreless the previous two games by the Pack.
“I think the kids played hard,” Idaho coach Leonard Perry said. “We had some missed opportunities offensively in the first half. We defended as well as we can defend. The second half we competed. We hovered around eight or 10 points and then they got it up to 16.”
Brett Ledbetter’s 3-pointer at 13:08 was the only field goal Idaho would get over the next 5 1/2 minutes, as Nevada went on a 7-2 surge to grab a 51-38 lead with 9:26 remaining.
Lyndale Burleson started the surge with a nice floater in the lane, and after a Dubois free throw, Sessions and Fazekas scored on back-to-back layups less than 30 seconds apart for a 50-37 lead. Kemp knocked down 1-for-2 from the line to end the mini-streak.
Keoni Watson (11 points) trimmed the lead to 51-40 with a basket and free throw, but that’s the closest Nevada would get the rest of the way. The teams traded baskets for most of the final nine minutes of the game, as the Pack were never in danger of losing the lead.
Fox said he isn’t worried about a lack of energy for tonight’s game. Nevada swept the season series against New Mexico State, winning 90-81 and 85-63.
“New Mexico State is playing very well,” Fox said. “They’re explosive offensively. They’re a little smaller and present different problems (than Hawai’i would have).”
In both games, the Aggies had problems stopping both Fazekas and Johnson. Fazekas went for 36 and 24, and Johnson went for 12 and then a career high 22 in the second meeting.
“Nevada is a very difficult team for us to play,” NMSU coach Reggie Theus said. “Their experience on the floor shows. They are poised.
“There were some things that happened up here the last time that I think we can correct. One good thing is that I know the game won’t be in the 50s and that helps us.”
New Mexico State has a strong inside-out presence with point guard Elijah Ingram and center Tyrone Nelson, and the Pack must contain Ingram from too much dribble penetration or it could be a long night. Ingram scored 26 in the first meeting, but was held to nine in the second game.
“I’m anxious to get payback,” said Ingram, who has been slowed somewhat by a hamstring injury, but still played all 40 minutes. “I think they’ll come in expecting an easy game, but we’ll give them a run for their money.”
Notes: According to reports out of Boise, Idaho, coach Perry has been forced to resign. When asked to comment at his post-game press conference, Perry, whose team set a school record for losses with 25, said there would be an announcement in the next day or so even though on the post-game radio show he admitted he was done … Fox has one year left on his contract, and no doubt schools will come calling, including his alma mater, Kansas State, which fired its coach on Thursday … Senior Chad Bell had a solid game with three blocked shots, including two on the same possession … Nevada shot 50 percent from the floor, including 14-for-25 in the first half … Fazekas, who had his double-double streak stopped at six, was a rebound away. He went 8-for-9 from the floor and 3-for-3 from the foul line for his game-high 20.