Nevada men face tough test in SMU
By DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Staff Writer
FRESNO – It’s been a long time since the University of Nevada reached the NCAA tournament – the 1984-85 season to be exact.
The Wolf Pack, 20-8 overall and WAC co-champion with UTEP, hope to end that drought with a successful run through the WAC tournament this week.
Nevada plays in the quarterfinals today at noon (KPTT 630, 11:35 a.m.) against SMU, a 79-60 winner over defending WAC champion Tulsa Tuesday night in the first round.
The teams split during the regular season. Nevada, which has won 11 of its last 13 games, won 84-74 at Lawlor back on Jan. 10, and SMU edged the Wolf Pack 71-70 on a free throw by Patrick Simpson as time expired.
“SMU has beaten some good teams this year (Texas Tech and Purdue). They are a good basketball team,” said Mark Fox, Nevada’s assistant head coach. “They have a very talented six or seven players. That’s hard to deal with.”
Sophomore point guard Bryan Hopkins and 6-9 junior forward Simpson are the Mustangs’ top players, but 6-6 swingman Kris Lowe, 6-6 freshman forward Devon Pearson and 6-8 forward-center Eric Castro have been valuable contributors.
“Hopkins is a tough match-up for anybody,” Fox said. “He can score any number of ways, and that’s always tough to guard.”
Hopkins has had good success against the Wolf Pack, scoring 25 in an 84-74 loss at Lawlor Events Center back on Jan. 10, and coming back with 23 points in a 71-70 overtime win on Feb. 5.
“I don’t know (why),” Hopkins said after the Mustangs’ first-round win over Tulsa Tuesday night. “I just try to go out there and help the team win. I’ve got confidence. I’ve had two good games against them. I’ll be mentally prepared.”
More than likely, the Wolf Pack will use point guard Todd Okeson or off guard Garry Hill-Thomas to contain Hopkins.
“We have used Garry (on point guards),” Fox said. “Todd leads the league in steals. I think he’s a better defender than people recognize.”
Interim head coach Robert Lineburg, who took over when Mike Dement was fired on Feb. 27, knows his team is in for a big night.
“They have an outstanding player in Kirk Snyder, and they have a great coach in Trent Johnson,” Lineburg said. “We should have confidence because we beat them at our place.”
Snyder had two of his best games this year against the Mustangs, scoring 33 the first time and 29 the second. He was a combined 21 for 38 from the field, and he also had 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
“We’re as healthy as we can be,” Fox said. “The kids are excited about coming here to play. The good thing is that this is pretty much the same group that came here for three days, and hopefully that will help.”
The only major change is Nick Fazekas, who made the WAC all-newcomer team after averaging 13.4 and 7.5 rebounds per game. His play relegated Sean Paul to backup status, but Paul continues to give Nevada important minutes off the bench.
Fazekas, however has struggled a bit, hitting only 6 for his last 18 from the floor against Hawaii and San Jose State. He scored 11 against the Spartans and 10 against Hawaii, but in both instances points were hard to come by.
“Nick is higher on people’s scouting reports now,” Fox said. “That’s pushed Todd’s numbers up and Garry’s numbers up.”
The scary thing about SMU is that the Mustangs have shot 50 percent or better in three of the four games since Lineburg took over for the deposed Dement.
“Our emphasis has been taking care of the ball, getting it inside and taking good shots,” he said. “The last week and a half we’ve talked about being the basketball team that we were when we beat Purdue (60-59 at Purdue) and Texas Tech (62-59 at home).”