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Nevada takes on mighty Tar Heels

Darrell Moody

RENO ” For the fourth time in school history, Nevada will face the top-ranked team in the nation.

The Wolf Pack, fresh off an unimpressive 68-63 win over Idaho State, hosts unbeaten and top-ranked North Carolina tonight at 7:05 (ESPN2) at Lawlor Events Center. A sellout crowd is expected.

In 2003-04, Nevada played at UConn and lost 93-79. In the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2005, Nevada dropped a 71-59 decision to Illinois. Nevada lost twice to UNLV when the Runnin’ Rebels were at the top of the Associated Press poll.

North Carolina, which has opened the season with a school-record 12 straight double-digit wins, all by double-digit margins, is the highest-ranked team to play in Reno since the Kansas Jayhawks played here in 2003. Nevada stunned the then sixth-ranked Jayhawks 75-61.

“It will be a really tough challenge,” freshman forward Luke Babbitt said. “Obviously they are a great team. We pretty much have to play perfect to win. We’ll find out where we are as a team.”

A year ago, North Carolina pounded Nevada 106-70, the Wolf Pack’s worst loss of the season. Nevada was in the game for about the first 17 or 18 minutes and faltered right before halftime. The second half turned into more of a scrimmage, as the Tar Heels pulled away.

“We (Armon Johnson and I) were inexperienced,” junior guard Brandon Fields said. “We made a couple of bonehead plays. Every possession counts against a team like that.”

The Tar Heels have the same cast of characters, and they play the game the same way. Carolina will trap and press on defense in an effort to get the pace as quick as possible.

“Pressure is something they are very good at,” Nevada coach Mark Fox said. “It’s an issue that we have to deal with and prepare for .”

“As soon as we score we immediately start thinking defense,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “By changing defense after every basket we get that defensive intensity.”

Another issue Nevada has to deal with is stopping returning Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough, who is averaging 23 points a game.

Fox claims he still doesn’t know who will guard Hansbrough.

“Ultimately, he is what college basketball is all about,” Fox said. “He’s a terrific competitor. He requires special attention.”

No doubt it will be done by committee, and there are times when Babbitt will be involved in trying to stop the 6-foot-9 All American.

Indeed. All five starters ” Hansbrough, Lawson, Danny Green (13.4), Deon Thompson (14.7) and Wayne Ellington (12.3) ” average in double figures. North Carolina has other potent players, and threin lies the problem. If a defense focuses too much on Hansbrough, the Tar Heels’ perimeter players will light teams up.

Lawson, because of his quickness, poses very severe problems. He can take defenders all the way to the basket or he can pull up and knock down a jump shot.

“He was pretty good last year,” Williams said when asked about Lawson’s improvement from last year. “He’s a little better defensively. He’s as any point guard I’ve had.”