Nevada becomes the Three-Pack in victory
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – Two years ago, Nevada was one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country, hitting just 27 percent of its attempts.
The Pack raised that mark slightly last season, hitting 36 percent. Better, but still not good enough, especially with teams crowding All-American Nick Fazekas under the basket.
Work and more work in the off-season is starting to pay dividends, and UC Irvine got the brunt of Nevada’s improved long-distance shooting.
Nevada, ranked 20th in the USA Today poll and 21st in the AP poll, knocked down 11 of 19 shots from long range (58 percent) to win its fourth straight game, a 83-64 non-conference decision Tuesday night before a crowd of 7,160 at Lawlor Events Center.
“We have a lot of guys that can shoot the ball,” Nevada coach Mark Fox said. “We’ve made a conscious effort to recruit shooters the last two years.
“The boxscore looks better than I thought we played. We played extremely well offensively and shot the ball well. I didn’t think our defense was at the level I’d like us to play at.”
Fazekas, who scored 29 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, knocked down all three of his long-distance shots. Kyle Shiloh (15 points) went 4-for-7 and Marcelus Kemp (23 points) went 2-for-5. Nevada is shooting 48 percent for the season from the 3-point line.
Shiloh, who improved his outside shooting immensely last season, had critical back-to-back 3-pointers to spark a 14-3 run early in the second half to give Nevada a 56-39 lead with 15:27 left in the game.
“I’ve always been confident,” Shiloh said. “I’m as confident as I was the last game. The ball just went in tonight. It’s making shots when you get them.
“It has to do with everybody concentrating on Nick. He scores like 30 points a game. He has five guys around him at all times. They (the 3-pointers) were open. They were sagging in on Nick, so we took the shots they gave us.”
Fox said Shiloh was patient and let the game come to him.
After Shiloh’s hit the two 3-pointers, he slipped a nice pass to Fazekas for a dunk. Kemp scored off a Ramon Sessions pass for a 52-36 lead. Irvine’s Chad DeCasas broke the drought with a 3-pointer, and Fazekas drove the lane and Sessions scored on a putback to end the barrage.
That scoring binge may have been the result of a stern halftime lecture from Fox, who despite a 42-34 lead, was unhappy. Irvine’s Chuma Awaji banked in a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to get the deficit to single digits.
“That deep 3-pointer sparked us,” Fazekas said. “Coach came in and let us have it.”
“I told them if we don’t defend, we might as well go home,” Fox said. “They were shooting 52 percent at the half, and that’s unacceptable.”
Nevada held the Anteaters to just a 35 percent mark over the final 20 minutes.
Nevada did get the lead to 66-45 with 10:50 left on a Shiloh 3-pointer, a three-point play by Sessions and a three-point play by Fazekas. Irvine came right back with five straight points, cutting the lead to 66-50. Two of those points came after Fox was whistled for his first technical of the year. Irvine never got closer than 13 the rest of the way.
“They execute their stuff on offense and kept us off the boards,” Fox said. “They forced us to play to win.”
And Nevada did that with seven players getting the bulk of the playing time. Lyndale Burleson (3 assists in 14 minutes) and David Ellis (3 points in 17 minutes) were the only reserves to get decent playing time.
Nevada came out of the gate strong offensively, shooting more than continued its hot shooting in the first eight-plus minutes, hitting 50 percent from the floor. That enabled Nevada, led by Shiloh and Denis Ikovlev, to go on a 17-4 scoring binge to take a 25-11 lead with 8:14 remaining.
Irvine helped matters by scoring just one basket in an eight-minute stretch. The Anteaters went 1-for-10 in that stretch and turned the ball over four times.
The Anteaters dropped to 2-4, but considering they have a young backcourt and are relying on seven players right now, the effort wasn’t bad.
“They (Nevada) didn’t change anything up tonight, and they sure weren’t going to for us,” Irvine coach Pat Douglass said. “I was pleased with the way we battled tonight. We don’t have a lot of experience at the guard spot. We’re a young team. We have two seniors, and I think we can learn from this game and the skills we need to work on.”
One thing is evident, the Anteaters really didn’t have an answer for either Fazekas or Kemp.
“They have two guys they always go to and that definitely helps,” Irvine forward Patrick Sanders. “They are good and they’re big.”