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Nevada men face Idaho

DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer

RENO – Nevada coach Mark Fox claims to have forgotten all about last year’s first-round nosedive against Boise State at the WAC Tournament.

After that setback there were fears that Nevada, the regular-season WAC champion, may have ruined its NCAA Tournament hopes. Nevada was selected and beat Texas before losing to Illinois in the second round.

Nevada (24-5) is as well-rested as you can be before a tournament, and you can bet the Pack won’t take eighth-seeded Idaho (4-24) lightly when the teams collide tonight at 6 in the WAC quarterfinals at Lawlor Events Center.

Action in the men’s tournament starts at noon with No. 3 Louisiana Tech meeting No. 6 Boise State. Utah State, seeded No. 2 meets No. 7 San Jose State at 2:30 p.m. At 8:30 p.m., No. 4 Hawai’i faces No. 5 New Mexico State.

“Last year’s loss helped,” Fox said on the weekly WAC teleconference. “We had three road games (in eight days) to finish the season. It allowed us to get some rest before post-season started.

“Certainly it was an experience no one enjoyed. We didn’t talk about it before we played Boise State (the first times) this year. Last year has nothing to do with this year.”

If nothing else, all Nevada needs to do is look at last time the teams played at Idaho. Nevada had a 15-point lead, but the Vandals whittled the deficit to single digits, losing 74-68. That alone should guard against overconfidence.

“We have to come out and play well,” Nevada forward Nick Fazekas said. “It’s tough to beat a team three times in a row. We’re not going to look past anyone.”

“We just have to come out and play hard,” sophomore guard Ramon Sessions said. “They are a great team. They showed that the last time we played them in Idaho.”

Nevada enters the contest with an 11-game win streak, and the Pack are winning by 13 points a game in that stretch. The last time Nevada tasted defeat was back on Jan. 23 when Utah State left Lawlor Events Center with a 59-53 win.

“I don’t think we’ve played our best game yet,” Fox said. “We can improve our game. I see areas where we can improve. I think we can play a lot better. The kids have had good daily focus.

“We’ve been more consistent (since the streak started). Some nights defense wins for us. Some nights we rebound consistently. Some nights we’ve scored well. Overall we’ve played better as the season has progressed.”

Idaho has improved immensely, but has not been able to get over the hump in terms of winning games. Idaho did beat Fresno State in Moscow, and that’s no small feat, considering Nevada split with Fresno State this season.

“Coach (Leonard) Perry should be commended,” Fox said. “He’s kept them playing hard in the face of adversity.

“We’re going to have to play better than we did the last time. They deserve credit. Their pressure bothered us. We didn’t finish the game well.”

The Vandals present a defensive challenge with their speedy backcourt of Tanoris Shepard and Keoni Watson, and the inside play of Mike Kale and Igor Vrzina.

Shepard has averaged 16 a game against Nevada, and he’ll be a difficult guard for Kyle Shiloh, who figures to draw that assignment. Shepard is strong, and his forte is getting to the basket.

“He’s a hard player to defend,” Fox said. “His team needs him to score. He played very well the second game. He’s a very good defender. We want to contain him. We’re not going to shut him out.”

Nevada also needs to be aware of Brett Ledbetter, who buried five 3-pointers in the second meeting between the schools, helping the Vandals keep the game close

Idaho coach Leonard Perry played a 2-3 zone exclusively in a 70-44 loss in the teams’ first meeting. He mixed up his defenses more in the second meeting, a 74-68 loss. He knows that his team has a monumental task ahead of it.

“What can I say that everybody else hasn’t said?,” Perry said. “They are the best team in the league. They are extremely talented, have a huge front line and are athletic. Mark (Fox) has done just a tremendous job.

“There were some adjustments that we obviously made. I think the biggest is that we executed offensively. It felt like we went a half without a basket the first game.”

Here’s a look at the other first-round games:

Boise State (14-14) vs. Louisiana Tech (19-11)

Season Series: Tech swept both games, winning 75-72 in Boise and 81-71 in Ruston

Coaches: Greg Graham (Boise); Keith Richard (Tech)

Top players: Boise State – G Coby Karl (19.1 in conference); La. Tech – F Paul Millsap (19.7, 13.5).

Notes: Karl has started 67 straight games, tied for second-longest in the WAC. He has scored 20 or more points 11 times this year … Eric Lane scored 24 in the recent double-overtime win over Idaho, and he averaged 20 a game for the week, which is 10 above his average … Boise State is 21-1 when scoring 80 or more points … Tech has won five of its last seven games and leads the WAC in defense (62.7) … Millsap has scored 20 or more in 42 contests. And he is the WAC’s active leader in double-doubles with 67, well ahead of Fazekas … Tech is the only team in conference with just one player scoring in double figures.

Utah State (21-7) vs. San Jose State (6-24)

Season series: Utah swept the Spartans, winning 67-56 in San Jose and 61-58 in Logan.

Coaches: Stew Morrill (Utah State); George Nessman (San Jose State)

Top players: Utah State – C Nate Harris (17.1, 62 percent); San Jose State – Demetrius Brown (12.5, 6.2)

Notes: The Aggies have won five of their last six games, the only blemish being an 18-point home loss to Nevada … The Aggies are the only team not to lose back-to-back games in conference this year … As a team Utah State shot a nation-leading 62 percent … The Spartans have lost 12 of 13 and eight straight … Five of the Spartans’ last six losses have been by a combined 20 points … SJSU blocked 93 shots this year, 49 more than last season … SJSU won four games on the road and just two at home this year.

Hawai’i (17-10) vs. New Mexico State (15-13)

Season series: The teams split, Hawai’i losing 87-84 in Las Cruces, and winning 61-56 in Honolulu

Coaches: Riley Wallace (Hawai’i); Reggie Theus (New Mexico State)

Top players: Hawai’i – F Julian Sensley (17.7), G Matt Lojeski (13.7); New Mexico State – F Tyrone Nelson (18.3), G Elijah Ingram (13.3)

Notes: The Rainbow Warriors lost Ahmet Gueye to a torn ACL in practice prior to their season finale against Louisiana Tech … Had its four-game win streak snapped by Tech last weekend… The team had rallied from double-digit deficits in four of its last five wins … Hawai’i has had seven straight winning seasons under Wallace … NMSU has won six of its last seven, matching the longest win streak since the 2002-03 season … The Aggies have had three or more players score in double figures in 24 games … In two games against Hawai’i, Nelson has averaged 22 points and 9.5 rebounds … Ingram missed the Aggies’ last game in Hawai’i, but is expected to play today … New Mexico has recorded eight wins when trailing at the half, tops in the WAC.

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

NEVADA (24-5) vs. IDAHO (4-24)

When: Tonight, 6 p.m.

Where: Lawlor Events Center

TV: KREN-TV

Radio: ESPN Radio 630 AM

Coaches: Nevada’s Mark Fox (49-12) is in his 2nd season; Idaho’s Leonard Perry (48-96) is in his 5th season

Starters: Nevada – F Nick Fazekas (21.9, 10.3), Marcelus Kemp (14.1, 3.5), C Demarshay Johnson (4.9, 4.1), G Ramon Sessions (4.6, 4.1) and Kyle Shiloh (9.3, 2.7); Idaho – G Tanoris Shepard (15.4, 3.8), Keoni Watson (10.4, 3.5); C Mike Kale (6.2, 4.6); F David Dubois (8.1, 4.6), Igor Vrzina (4.4, 2.9)