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Nevada to face Georgia Tech

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

BY DARRELL MOODY

Appeal Staff Writer

RENO – Two down and two big wins to go to reach the Final Four.

It’s pretty heady stuff for a team that is in the NCAAs for the first time since 1985, yet that’s what Nevada, 25-8, faces as it squares off against Georgia Tech, 25-9, in a St. Louis regional semifinal game tonight (6:40 p.m., Ch. 2, 630 AM) at the Edward Jones Dome.

Nevada players detest the word Cinderella when it comes to describing their season, but it’s hard not to see it as that. The team has tied a school record for wins set back in the 1945-46 season, won its first Western Athletic Conference post-season tournament and tied for the regular-season title this year, and won the first two NCAA tournament games in school history last week, upsetting Michigan State and Gonzaga in Seattle.

Nevada was an underdog in both of those games, and it is a slight underdog tonight against the Yellowjackets, who finished third in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“Georgia Tech is probably as talented as any team we’ve played this year,” Nevada associate head coach Mark Fox said before Tuesday’s practice. “They play exceptional defense, and they’re extremely athletic. I’m not sure we’ve figured out a way to beat them yet.”

Fox said the ‘Jackets, who beat Northern Iowa 65-60 and Boston College 57-54, are comparable to Michigan State.

“They run transition (offense) like Michigan State, are very athletic like Michigan State and they shoot the three-pointer like Michigan State,” Fox said. “They play quite a bit better defense than Michigan State. They play more man (defense) than anything, but like to full-court pressure and trap you.”

Tech is a team with six decent scorers – shooting guard B.J. Elder (16.2), point guard Jarrett Jack (12.4), forward Isma’il Muhammad (9.8), Arizona transfer Will Bynum (10), guard Marvin Lewis (11) and 7-foot-1, 250-pound center Luke Schenscher (8.8).

“Elder can score every way possible,” Fox said. “He can score off the dribble, he’ll post you up and he can shoot the three.”

Fox indicated that the defensive assignment could fall to either senior 6-3 defensive specialist Garry Hill-Thomas or 6-6 junior guard Kirk Snyder.

“Garry would give up 20 pounds to Elder,” Fox said. “It would be a tough matchup. We might run Kirk at him. We haven’t decided how we’re going to defense him.”

Schenscher, because of his bulk, will provide a match-up problem for 6-11 freshman Nick Fazekas. However, Fox said that Schenscher doesn’t have the offensive skills of MSU’s 6-10 center Paul Davis.

“He’s longer than Davis,” Fox said. ‘He doesn’t shoot it from the outside, but he has good hands. We need to meet him up higher on the floor and not let him get too low on the blocks.”

Schenscher, who has taken only 11 shots the first two games, told the Associated Press that Tech can’t afford to get complacent against the Wolf Pack.

“We’re going to come out like we’re the underdogs,” said the Tech center. ‘We can’t be complacent in any way if we’re going to compete against a team like Nevada.”

The Wolf Pack, after getting Monday off to get back into their school routine, practiced Tuesday and Wednesday before leaving for St. Louis.

Nevada has quickly learned with success comes attention, and the team is getting plenty of it from classmates, professors and the national media.

“It’s definitely hard to get back in rhythm,” said senior center Sean Paul. “Catching up (in school) is hard to do. There are so many distractions. Even professors are talking about it in class.”

Coach Trent Johnson, who is rumored to be in line for the head job at Utah, certainly isn’t going to let his team rest on its laurels.

“We’re refocusing our energy on Georgia Tech, and not letting this (success) go to our heads,” Paul said. “It’s time to get back to work.”

And that means one game at a time and one possession at a time. That’s Johnson’s way of approaching and playing basketball, and the results have been outstanding.

Notes: Local fans who make the trip to St. Louis will get another look at Kansas, and that means another glimpse of ex-Reno star David Padgett, who is coming off the bench for the Jayhawks. Kansas plays Alabama-Birmingham in the semifinal opener at 4:15 p.m. .. First-round winners play on Sunday.