Nevada men open tournament against Idaho
Appeal Sports Writer
LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Nevada players must have a feeling of deja vu on the eve of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament.
For the second straight season, 10th-ranked Nevada (27-3) will face Idaho (4-26) in the quarterfinal round Thursday at 11 a.m. (Channel 21) at the Pan American Center.
Nevada easily won the two meetings between the teams, 81-55 in Reno and 84-68 in Moscow. Nevada has won six straight against the Vandals.
“We’ve been pretty focused all year,” Nevada coach Mark Fox said. “It’s one game at a time. Our focus should be on Idaho, and I think it is.
“Idaho was a lot different from the first time we played them. I don’t know if there is any difference from a few weeks ago. They have a better understanding of each other.”
The Vandals are led by guard Keoni Watson, the No. 3 scorer in the conference at 18.2 a contest. His last-second shot beat San Jose State in Tuesday’s play-in game.
“He’s a terrific player,” Fox said. “He’s been scoring the ball very well. He had 34 against Hawai’i.” Watson averaged more than 25 points a game over the last two weeks of the season.
Idaho’s problem is that nobody else has stepped up offensively. Darin Nagle is averaging 9.8, but foul trouble has limited his minutes in both Nevada games. Freshman David Jackson averages 6.8 a contest.
Still, All-American Nick Fazekas said the Vandals shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“They are a team that we’re going to have to play hard and well to win (against),” Fazekas said. “We’re not going to mail it in. You can’t take a night off when you play in this league.
“That’s the way (scrappy) they play. They try to play harder than any other team. They play scrappy and go after loose balls.”
Fox shrugged off the notion that it’s difficult to beat the same team three straight times in a season.
“I don’t believe in that thing,” Fox said. “It’s not something I put a lot of stock in.”
Idaho, meanwhile, hopes the third time is a charm against the heavily favored Wolf Pack.
“They are awfully good and we are excited to play them again,” Idaho coach George Pfeifer said. “We have to come in and play the best basketball we’re capable of playing. They are really tough and we have to be tough-minded against them.”
“It’s a good opportunity for us to play them again,” forward Desmond Nwoke said. “I’m really excited because there is a reason they call it March Madness. Anything can happen.”
Nevada knows that first hand. The Pack lost a quarterfinal game to Boise State in the 2005 tournament in Reno.
Here’s a capsule look at the remaining men’s teams:
BOISE STATE (16-13)
Head coach: Greg Graham
Players to watch: G Coby Karl (14.8), F Matt Nelson (13.9), F Reggie Larry (13.9)
Scouting report: The Broncos are a dangerous team, especially on the perimeter with Karl and Eric Lane. Nelson jas a load to handle inside, and Larry has the quickness to get to the basket.
Post-season possibilities: The Broncos have an outside shot at an NIT bid if they can get to the finals.
Head coach: George Pfeifer
Players to watch: G Keoni Watson (18.2), F Darin Nagle (9.8)
Scouting report: The Vandals needed a late bucket by Watson to edge San Jose State in the play-in game. Idaho isn’t a good offensive team, and Watson is by far the most-dangerous player on the floor.
Post-season possibilities: None unless a miracle happens and they win this tournament.
FRESNO STATE (22-8)
Head coach: Steve Cleveland
Players to watch: Quinton Hosley (14.4), Dominic McGuire (13.2), Hector Hernandez (10.3)
Scouting report: The Bulldogs have lived and died by the 3-point shot all season, and they will continue that trend in this tournament. Hernandez (38 percent) and Eddie Miller (37 percent) are the team’s best 3-point shooters. Hosley and McGuire are slashers and do a pretty good job when they attempt to go to the basket.
Post-season possibilities: The Bulldogs, who are on a five-game win streak, would seem a cinch for the NIT.
Head coach: Riley Wallace
Players to watch: F Matt Lojeski (16.8), Ahmet Gueye (12.3), Bobby Nash (10.9)
Scouting report: The Warriors ended the regular season with three straight wins, and they are playing their best basketball of the season. This is a dangerous team that would like nothing better than to send coach Riley Wallace out with a championship.
UTAH STATE (21-10)
Head coach: Stew Morrill
Players to watch: G Jaycee Carroll (21.0), F Chaz Spicer (10.1), Stephen DuCharme (9.8)
Scouting report: Everything revolves around Carroll, a first-team all-conference selection. He can do it all – score, rebound and distribute. The Aggies need guys like Spicer, DuCharme and Chris Session to step up.
Post-season possibilities: Utah State should be in the NIT with no discussion, and if the Aggies can win two and reach the finals, they should go to the NCAAs. The win over Nevada is the biggest on the Aggies’ resume.
NEW MEXICO STATE (22-8)
Head coach: Reggie Theus
Players to watch: F Justin Hawkins (15.6), F Tyrone Nelson (11.0), G Elijah Ingram (9.9)
Scouting report: The Aggies are perhaps the deepest team in the tournament, and have a 16-1 record at home. despite finishing three games behind Nevada, the Aggies would almost have to be a favorite since the tournament is on their home court. They can defend and centers Hatila Passos and Martin Iti combined for 52 blocks this year.
Post-season possibilities: The Aggies deserve to be in post-season. Obviously the Aggies would like to win the tournament and get the automatic bid. If they reach the finals and lose hey would have 24 wins and an outside shot at NCAAs.
LOUISIANA TECH (10-19)
Head coach: Keith Richard
Players to watch: F Chad McKenzie (13.0), G Trey McDowell (13.3), Marcus Elliott (7.5)
Scouting report: The Aggies don’t figure to make much noise here because they don’t play well away from Ruston. Their offense hinges on the success of McDowell and McKenzie, but as a team they barely shoot more than 40 percent
Post-season possibilities: Really none. Like Idaho, they would have to win it all to extend their season.
IDAHO (4-26) VS. NEVADA (27-3)
When: Today, 11 a.m.,
Where: Pan American Center, Las Cruces, N.M.
TV/Radio: Channel 21/ESPN Radio 630 AM
Projected starters: F Clyde Johnson (5.2, 4.2), Darin Nagle (9.8, 5.8); C Desmond Nwoke (4.0, 3.0); G Keoni Watson (18.2, 2.7), O.J. Avworo (3.8. 2.6). NEVADA – F Nick Fazekas (20.9, 11.3), Denis Ikovlev (6.7, 3.9); G Ramon Sessions (12.8, 4.9), Kyle Shiloh (9.6, 3.5), Marcelus Kemp (18.2, 4.5)
Prediction: Nevada 70, Idaho 55