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Nevada content with 3-2 record heading into Boise State

JOE SANTORO
For the Nevada Appeal

RENO – Luke Babbitt summed up the state of the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team perfectly.

“We’re 3-2 in the (Western Athletic Conference) and that’s not great but that’s better than 2-3,” the Wolf Pack sophomore said.

A whole lot better.

The distinction between 2-3 and 3-2 is much greater than just a single victory. A 2-3 record would have meant that the Pack lost two in a row at home last week. Their confidence would have been non-existent heading into key WAC road games at Boise State Wednesday (7:15 p.m., KAME 21) and Fresno State on Saturday (7:30 p.m.).

And confidence, Pack coach David Carter has reminded us all year, is a key for this young Wolf Pack team.

“We didn’t want to go on the road at 2-3,” Carter said. “Our guys knew (Saturday’s 76-68 victory over Idaho) was huge. And they were ready to play.”

The Idaho contest became a must-win game because of a 79-72 loss in overtime three nights earlier to Utah State.

“Coming back to beat Idaho is a good indication of a good team, to be able to bounce back after an emotional loss,” Carter said.

“It was a good morale boost for everybody on the team,” junior point guard Armon Johnson said.

The Pack, now 11-7 overall and tied for third in the WAC at 3-2 with Fresno State and Utah State, will meet a Boise State team that is desperate for a victory. The Broncos, 9-10 overall, are last in the WAC at 0-6 and will bring a six-game losing streak into Wednesday night’s game.

“You can’t look at their record and think it’s going to be an easy game for us,” Carter said. “This team (the Wolf Pack) will not overlook anyone.”

It might be difficult, though, for the Pack to avoid being a little overconfident against the Broncos. The Wolf Pack, after all, has won 15 of its last 19 games against Boise, including a 69-60 decision last March 7 in Boise. The Pack has also won seven of its last nine games in Boise.

The Broncos are led by the 6-foot-9 Ike Okoye (13.1 points, 8.7 rebounds a game), 6-1 La’Shard Anderson (11.9 points) and 6-6 Robert Arnold (10.9 points).

The 6-7 Daequon Montreal (8.9 points, 5.7 rebounds), 6-9 Kurt Cunningham (8.7 points) and 6-7 Paul Noonan (8.1 points) also give the Broncos some depth.

“(Okoye) is very active on the boards,” Carter said. “He’s long, can block shots. He kind of reminds me of (the Pack’s Dario Hunt).”

Boise, though, is shooting just .311 percent from 3-point range and just .692 percent from the free throw line. Carter also said they have had problems on defense.

“They play a match-up zone but it’s not very aggressive so you can get any shot you want,” Carter said.

Fresno State, which will host Utah State on Thursday, is currently 10-9 overall and 3-2 in the WAC. The Bulldogs are also 8-2 at home. Overconfidence will not be a Pack problem.

‘Their talent level is probably one of the best in the conference,” Carter said.

The Bulldogs feature 6-8 sophomore Paul George (17.7 points, 7.7 rebounds). George also leads the WAC with 2.6 steals a game.

“He’s gotten a lot stronger this year,” Carter said. “He’s also letting the game come to him where last year he kind of forced things a little bit.”

Sylvester Seay (6-10 senior) adds 11.4 points and 6.6 rebounds a night for the Bulldogs. Mike Ladd, a 6-5 sophomore, is scoring 14 points a game and 6-10 freshman Greg Smith scores 10 points a game with 6.4 rebounds. Guard Steve Shepp leads the WAC with 5.2 assists a game and is fourth in steals at 1.4.

“They play very well at home,” Carter said. “They are a different team at home as opposed to the road.”

The Pack lost at Fresno State last year, 68-66, on Feb. 26 as Seay scored 28 points with 11 rebounds. The Bulldogs won the game despite George going scoreless (0-for-7 from the field) in 33 minutes.

“We are going to have to play a solid overall game to beat them,” Carter said.