Nevada to face No. 1
Appeal Sports Writer
For the third time in five years, Nevada will face the No. 1 team in the nation.
Nevada, which has won five straight games to improve to 7-4 overall, travels to the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., to play the top-ranked and undefeated North Carolina Tar Heels today.
Tip-off is at 4 p.m. (ESPN2, ESPN Radio 630 AM). A sellout crowd of 21,000 is expected for the non-conference men’s basketball game.
In the 2003-04 season, Nevada lost to UConn, 93-79, in the Preseason NIT on Nov. 19, 2003. The following year, Nevada lost 71-59 to Illinois in the second round of the 2005 NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis.
This trip resembles the one Nevada took to Kansas in the 2004-05 season. It was Mark Fox’s first year on the job, and the Pack was blown out 85-52 by the Jayhawks. Nick Fazekas and Kyle Shiloh were sophomores, Marcelus Kemp missed the season because of a knee injury and Ramon Sessions was a freshman. Kevinn Pinkney was the Pack’s most experienced player.
This group features Kemp, Demarshay Johnson, Lyndale Burleson and David Ellis as its most-experienced players, but the quartet is surrounded by starting sophomores JaVale McGee, Matt LaGrone and Brandon Fields plus true freshmen Armon Johnson and Malik Cooke, untested sophomore Richie Phillips and JC transfer Ray Kraemer.
“I think so,” Fox said when asked if the groups were similar. “This game is a little later (in the season). Certainly this is a young team going to face a great team in a hostile environment.
“There will be some young moments, and I fully anticpate them. It’s part of growing up.”
Without question, this will be Nevada’s toughest test of the season. The Tar Heels, led by All-ACC selection Tyler Hansbrough average 91 points a game. Hansbrough averages 21.7 points and 9.7 rebounds, swingman Wayne Ellington averages 17.2 a game, Danny Green comes off the bench and averages 13.1 and point guard Ty Lawson is averaging 13.0.
“This is a great team without a weakness,” Fox said. “They have great players, great depth and great depth. A lot of their offense is predicated on their defense. We have to be efficient with our offense.
“Hansbrough is relentless. He’s a terrific player. He’s too good to put one guy on him. We’ll have to do it by committee. Ellington is a great wing player and Lawson is a terrific point guard. They have a roster full of good players.”
The Tar Heels have outrebunded teams by nearly 12 a game, and that has Fox concerned.
“They have been pounding people (on the boards),” Fox said. “They are a very good team. It’s something we have to focus on going into the game.”
Fox said that Nevada has improved during each week of the season, and this will give him a barometer as to how far the team has come and how much it needs to improve.
Fox was pleased with the play of Lyndale Burleson, who delivered eight points and three rebounds in his 26-minute 2007-08 debut. Burleson was academically ineligibe the first semester.
“He played very well,” Fox said. “Certainly he was one of the keys to victory. He could haver played 30 or 35 minutes.”
Notes: The Pack is on a five-game win streak and coming off a narrow 55-52 win at Northern Iowa over the weekend. Two of Nevada’s seven wins this year have been on the road, and Nevada has won 21 of its last 29 away from Lawlor Events Center … The UNI game was the first time that Fields had failed to connect on a 3-point field goal. Fields is still shooting 46 percent from beyond the arc … McGee swatted seven Northern Iowa shots over the weekend and has 68 in his brief career, which puts him at No. 9 on the all-time Nevada list…The top-ranked Tar Heels are 4-0 at the Dean Smith Center this season … North Carolina is averaging 91 points per game and is outscoring opponents by 21 points an outing. Four times North Carolina has eclipsed the 100-point barrier, the last time on Dec. 22 when it pounded UCSB 105-70.