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Nevada to face Montana

DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer

SALT LAKE CITY — Nevada coach Mark Fox admitted his team is a day behind in preparation for its NCAA Tournament opener against Montana.

Tip-off is set for approximately 12:15 p.m. (CBS) today at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on the campus of the University of Utah.

“A year ago we didn’t have quite as much tape as we’d like on Texas,” said Fox, who has guided the 5th-seeded Pack to a 27-5 record. “This year is a bigger problem. That is why our preparation might be a day behind. Getting tape was difficult and they don’t have a lot of games on television.”

Nevada, which takes a 14-game win streak into the game, did get tape and a lot of information from ex-Pack coach Trent Johnson, who is now at Stanford. The Cardinal lost 88-69 to Montana back in December. Boise State also played Montana, but it’s not known whether the Broncos offered any tape.

Fox is impressed with the 12th-seeded Grizzlies, who are 23-6 entering the contest.

“They are a very good offensive basketball team,” Fox said of the Grizzlies. “They are averaging nearly 80 points. They have a lot of great shooters, but they also have an excellent low block scorer (Andrew Strait). That is a dangerous combination. He (Strait) is somebody you have to consider double-teaming because he is a good player.

“We haven’t shown our team much tape yet because we really wanted to understand what we need to do before communicating that to our players.”

What Nevada needs to do is continue to play great defense. During its 14-game win streak, Nevada has allowed just 61 points a game. Fox has always stressed rebounding and defense as the keys to winning games away from home.

Besides Strait, who averages 16.7 a game, the Grizzlies have shooting guard Kevin Criswell, who is at 16.5. Virgil Matthews averages 10 a game, but he averaged 18 a game in conference.

“They are a better defensive team than we are,” Montana coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “They are much more physical and shut people down. Rebounding is going to have to be one of the focal points. I think Nevada does a real good job of guarding. If they aren’t the best defensive team we’ve played all year then I don’t know who is. Our efficiency and our ability to run our offense is going to be one of the keys.”

Defense is probably more important for Montana, which has to deal with the likes of 6-11 junior Nick Fazekas (21.8), 6-5 sophomore Marcelus Kemp (14.1), 6-7 forward Mo Charlo (10.3) and 6-3 guard Kyle Shiloh (8.8).

Fazekas has a decided height advantage over the 6-8 Strait and 6-9 Jordan Hasquet.

“We’ve got our hands full,” Krystkowiak said. “Number one, we’re at a pretty severe height disadvantage. I don’t think a whole lot of people have shut Nevada down this year.

“Once they get the ball in the post, we have a plan. I don’t think there is any rocket science to it – trying to do your work by keeping the ball from going in early. We have to have good ball pressure on the perimeter.”

Added Strait, “I think it’s safe to say that Jordan (Hasquet) and I have our hands full. They are pretty physical down low. It’s going to be a tough task. We are going to use our strength to the best of our ability and block out to limit the second-shot opportunities.”

Should Montana concentrate too much on Fazekas, the Grizzlies will leave themselves open to the perimeter game of Kemp, Shiloh and Charlo, all of whom have 3-point capabilities.

“On the offensive end, Marcelus compliments my game the most,” Fazekas said. “He is an outside threat and can really get the ball down and create a lot of openings for myself.”

“As far as Virgil and me, we look for what kind of wing presence they have,” Criswell said. “They are real athletic on the wing. They shoot real well and they are deep on the wing. We definitely have our hands full.”

Montana has had plenty of time to get ready for the game since it completed the Big Sky tournament over a week ago. The Grizzlies have had eight days off, and Krystkowiak said that it’s not really an advantage.

The Montana coach said that if he had his way he would have his team playing every third or fourth day. He worries about being a bit rusty and his team getting off to a slow start.

That’s what happened last year in the Grizzlies’ opener against Washington. The Grizzlies were in an 18-2 hole after the first five minutes against Washington and never recovered.

“I think we feel a lot better,” Matthews said. “We’re a lot more comfortable and a little more relaxed. Being a 12 seed takes the pressure off.”

“We have a few guys that have been here before from last year’s team. We have an idea of what to expect this year. Hopefully we will just be ready those first five minutes.”

Indeed. Montana knows it can’t afford a five-minute letdown against a team of Nevada’s caliber.