Nevada comfortable at home | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada comfortable at home

JOE SANTORO
For the Nevada Appeal

RENO – Nobody would blame the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team if it refused to leave the comforts of Lawlor Events Center for the rest of the season.

“You have to take care of business at home,” said Wolf Pack coach David Carter, whose young team will bring a modest two-game winning streak and a 4-4 record into tonight’s game at Lawlor against the Eastern Washington Eagles (7:05 p.m., ESPN 630AM).

“When we play at home we play well and shoot the ball well. The guys are very comfortable.”

The Pack, now 4-0 at home and 0-4 on the road, will conclude its current four-game homestand on Saturday night (7:05 p.m.) against the Wagner Seahawks before playing its final two games in the Las Vegas Classic on Tuesday (against BYU) and Wednesday (against either Nebraska or Tulsa) in Las Vegas.

“You have to win at home because it’s so tough to win on the road, as we’ve seen,” Carter said.

Eastern Washington, a member of the Big Sky Conference, brings a 4-5 record to Lawlor. The Eagles have already played two Western Athletic Conference teams this season, losing to Boise State at home (82-69) and Idaho on the road (76-54).

“They have quick guards that we’ll need to keep in front of us and two big guys inside so they have a nice combination of strength and speed,” Carter said.

The Wolf Pack owns an 8-2 edge in its all-time series with Eastern Washington. All 10 games in the series were played between the 1987-88 and 1991-92 seasons when both teams were in the Big Sky.

“Idaho and Boise were able to rebound and get out and run on them and get some easy baskets,” Carter said.

The Eagles like to empty their bench every game. All 11 players on the Eastern Washington roster have averaged at least 9.8 minutes a game this year. The big guys inside are 6-foot-9 Brandon Moore (13.4 points a game) and 6-8 Mark Dunn (13.1). The little guys outside are 5-10 Jeffrey Forbes (9.3), 5-10 Glen Dean (9.8), 5-7 Benny Valentine (11.0) and 5-11 Kevin Winford (7.7). The 6-5 Abebe Demise also contributes with 7.5 points a game.

“Their big guys and little guys complement each other well,” Carter said.

Wagner, a school with an enrollment of just 2,000 students in Staten Island, N.Y., is a member of the Northeast Conference. The Seahawks are 1-7 this year and feature 5-11 guard Chris Martin, who leads the team in scoring at 14.3 points a game.

The Seahawks, who have never played Nevada, also feature the 6-7 Michael Orock (10.0 points), the 6-4 Josh Thompson (8.0) and the 5-10 Ryan Conrad (9.3).

The game on Saturday will also mark the Wolf Pack debut of Douglas High graduate Keith Olson. Olson, a 6-9 sophomore, had to sit out the first semester after transferring from Northern Arizona. Olson, whose last taste of competition was the 2007 Northern 4A Regional title game against Luke Babbitt’s Galena Grizzlies, never played at NAU because of injuries.

“Keith will be able to defend the big guys for us,” Carter said. “We’re going to need him in (Western Athletic Conference) games when we give up some side inside. I know he’ll have some butterflies on Saturday but it will be good for him just to get his feet wet.”

The Wolf Pack is coming off a 92-72 victory last Saturday over South Dakota State. Carter was able to play all 11 active players on the roster at least seven minutes in the easy victory.

The Pack shot 54 percent in the game, held a 43-36 edge on the boards and forced South Dakota State into 19 turnovers. Four Pack starters — Babbitt, Armon Johnson, Joey Shaw and Brandon Fields — played between 22 and 28 minutes and scored between 13 and 20 points.

“I think we played well,” said Fields, who led all scorers with 20 points. “But we still had some letdowns (the Pack turned the ball over 14 times). We have to keep working to get better.”

The last two Pack victories (the Pack beat Fresno Pacific, 89-67, to start this 4-game homestand on Dec. 8) have been little more than glorified practices, a chance to get extended minutes for everyone on the roster.

“It was just good to get two wins to get back to .500,” Carter said. “Anytime you win a couple games, it always helps everyone’s confidence. And it was nice to get an opportunity to give double-digit minutes to our bench and give them some experience.”

The Eastern Washington and Wagner games are the Pack’s first two contests in the Las Vegas Classic. All eight teams in the tournament will play four games with the first two at campus sites. The last two games for each team will be Dec. 22 and 23 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.