Nevada on the rise, Northern Iowa is not | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada on the rise, Northern Iowa is not

DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer

Northern Iowa and 10th-ranked Nevada are teams headed in different directions.

The Panthers (16-11, 7-9), after a 15-4 start, have lost four straight and seven of their last eight in a 24-day period. With just a couple of regular-season games left before the Missouri Valley Conference post-season tournament, Northern Iowa’s post-season hopes have shrunk with every loss.

Nevada, meanwhile, has won six in a row and 16 of its last 17. The Wolf Pack are two wins away from clinching a share of their fourth straight Western Athletic Conference regular-season, and barring a major meltdown, are headed to their fourth straight NCAA Tournament.

That’s the story line for Saturday’s (3 p.m., ESPN2) fifth annual BracketBuster game at Lawlor Events Center. The game is already a sellout.

Ben Jacobsen, Northern Iowa head coach, is hoping his team can start playing like it did earlier in the year when it beat Iowa, Iowa State and Bucknell during its nonconference schedule enroute to a 9-2 nonconference record.

“We jumped out to a 15-4 start and 6-2 conference record,” Jacobsen said. “We were playing very well and a number of players were playing well. Offensively we’ve been very good.

“A couple of guys have not shot the basketball quite as well. We haven’t shot the ball from quite as well. We’ve been in a tough situation the last three games especially. We need to play a little bit better.”

Starters Brooks McKowen (30.2) and Travis Brown (33 percent) have struggled from 3-point range, and 6-8 forward Grant Stout recently went through a 10-for-35 slump from the floor in recent losses to Drake, Indiana State, Missouri State and Illinois State. Stout hits 36 percent from beyond the arc.

Northern Iowa’s bench play has been inconsistent this season. Junior Adam Viet, who knocked in at least two 3-pointers in seven of the first eight conference games, has made just two 3-pointers in the last seven games. Reserve forward Adam Koch is only 1-for-23 from 3-point range, and back-up point guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe has six more turnovers than assists in conference play.

No doubt Nevada coach Mark Fox is just now digging into Northern Iowa, but he knows his team, which hasn’t exactly been burning it up lately, will have its hands full on Saturday. The Panthers beat Iowa at Iowa, and they have made the NCAA Tournament two years running, dropping five-point first-round decisions to Georgetown and Wisconsin, respectively.

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

Northern Iowa (16-11) at Nevada (23-2)

Time/place: Saturday at 3 p.m./Lawlor Events Center

TV: ESPN2

Radio: 630 AM

The line: Nevada by 8