Nevada set to host Utah State
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – Nevada and Utah State. Two teams with prolific offenses. Two teams going in different directions.
Nevada (13-4, 3-2) is struggling, having won just three of its last six games, and its defense and rebounding have been inconsistent. Meanwhile, Utah State (12-4, 4-2) has won eight of its last nine, including three straight in Western Athletic Conference play.
The schools who were picked to battle for the WAC championship collide in an important game in front of a nationally televised audience tonight (ESPN) at 9 at Lawlor Events Center. School officials expect a crowd between 8 and 9,000.
Nevada, currently in fourth place, could move up with a win. The Pack have 11 conference games, including tonight, left on their schedule. The game is important, but certainly it’s not do-or-die time yet.
“They’re all important,” Nevada coach Mark Fox said. “I never discuss losing. I’m trying to win.
“I’m not sure of the mood of the team. I’m not concerned with the mood. I just want them to produce on the floor.”
Utah State coach Stew Morrill said there is plenty of basketball left to play.
“It would certainly be a huge bonus to win at Nevada,” Morrill said. “I look at it as a tough one, and it would be huge if we can get it.
“I don’t want the players to think we need to get this or we’re in trouble.”
Nevada has other problems, too. There is no leadership on the floor, and Fox admits that’s bothered him.
“We need some more leadership,” Fox said. “It doesn’t have to be one guy. Leadership can’t be appointed. It’s not as established as I’d like it to be.”
Defense is huge for Fox, and the Pack are coming off their worst effort of the season in an 87-77 setback to Fresno State last Wednesday. The Bulldogs shot 53 percent from the field, as Nevada struggled at the defensive end, and Utah State may not be as quick, but the Aggies can shoot the ball, especially 6-2 Jaycee Carroll and 6-7 Nate Harris, both of whom average 17.6 a game.
“They are a terrific executing team,” Fox said. “They are a very efficient basketball team.”
Utah State makes good use of screens just like Hawai’i, but Fox said the Aggies have a different philosophy. One key for Nevada will be its ability to defend Harris and force him out of his comfort zone.
“He (Harris) is an all-around player,” Fox said. “He’s a lot like Nick (Fazekas).”
Carroll has been mired in a shooting slump, but Morrill is confident he will come out of it.
“He needs to work (on his shooting),” Morrill said. “I told him not to worry too much; to have fun and play basketball. He needs to believe in himself. He needs to concentrate on defense and rebounding, and he’ll start making those shots.”
Cass Matheus is averaging 10.1, and David Pak is averaging nearly 7 points a game. The Aggies are one of the best 3-point shooting teams, averaging 40.1 from beyond the arc.
Morrill knows his defense will be hard-pressed to contain the Pack.
“Obviously it’s a huge challenge for us,” Morrill said. “Going into this game against the team picked to win the league coming off a tough loss.
“We do know what we’re up against. We know we have to have a very good performance to be in the game.”
Much of Utah State’s defensive focus will be centered around Nevada’s 6-11 forward Nick Fazekas, who enters the game averaging 20.9 a game.
“He’s a guy that moves inside and outside,” Morrill said. “He’s very good with his back to the basket and facing the basket. He has length, and that’s always a concern.
“Even though he’s not shooting as good a percentage at the 3-point line, he’s very dangerous out there. He can get it going.”
Morrill agreed that playing athletic posts is more difficult than playing a center who plays only with his back to the basket.
“We’re doing the best we can,” Morrill said. “We’re consistently trying to get better. Without having some athleticism, it’s important that we are disciplined and sound fundamentally.”
With improved shooting by Kyle Shiloh (19.7 points per game in the last three) and Marcelus Kemp (13.9 per game), it forces Morrill to consider defensive options.
“Obviously it makes you evaluate how much you can zone,” Morrill said. “Shiloh (and Kemp) help that. It makes it harder to guard them.”
One thing that would give Morrill an even bigger headache is if Mo Charlo can start to regain his form of the first nine games.
Notes: Nevada is 8-0 at home and has won 36 of his last 40 dating back to the 2003-04 season … The Pack have won 12 of their last 14 conference games … Nevada has employed a different lineup in each of the last three games … This is Utah State’s first appearance on ESPN since it beat UOP 65-52 in the Big West Conference championship game last March … Utah State is 88-22 in conference games over the last seven years.