Nevada to host Central Florida
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – Nevada basketball coach Mark Fox said his team is different and much improved from when the season started in early November.
He will get a chance to see just how right he is when the Pack (4-4) hosts Central Florida (5-4) tonight at 5 p.m. (ESPN Radio 630AM) at Lawlor Events Center.
Central Florida dealt Nevada a 63-60 loss in the season-opener in Orlando, Fla. Nevada has gone 4-3 since that game.
“We’re much different,” Fox said before Friday’s practice. “We’re a great deal improved and I’m sure they’ve probably improved, too. We’re certainly a different team.
“They have added a player (Tony Davis), who didn’t play against us the first time. They still shoot it well.”
Speraw’s team is 4-4 since the Nevada game, including close losses to Kansas State, Ole Miss and Villanova and an impressive win over Penn State.
“I don’t know how much different we are,” Speraw said. “We have one player not playing (Mike Battle). Davis just gives us depth up front.
“They (Nevada) are much improved. The execution of their offense is much better than it was, which is what you would expect.”
One advantage the Pack will have is that it has won 27 of its last 29 games at Lawlor. This time it’s Central Florida having to come cross country for one game. It’s Central Florida’s first airline trip. Previously, UCF played a neutral-site game at the Old Spice Classic at Disney World and a game in nearby Tampa.
“I know it’s going to be a difficult game,” Speraw said. “It’s a road game at a difficult place to play. That’s the biggest thing.
“We’ve been a little spurty. We haven’t been real consistent. We’ve played some good teams and competed well, but not quite been able to get over the hump (K-State and Villanova).”
Speraw’s team still has three offensive weapons at guard – Jermaine Taylor (17.7), Dave Noel (11.9) and Mike O’Donnell (11.7) at the point. Taylor only went 3 for 15 in the first meeting, but has been shooting the ball much better since.
“He’s (Taylor) a good player,” Fox said. “Fortunately we played pretty well against him the first time. What has helped is the guys around him are playing better.”
“He has some abilities, as long as he stays focused,” Speraw said of his talented 6-4 guard.
Noel is shooting 51 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range. Taylor is at 44 and 35, respectively. O’Donnell is shooting 40 percent from 3-point range.
Nevada has four starters averaging in double figures, led by Marcelus Kemp at 18.1 a game. JaVale McGee is at 13.6, Brandon Fields is at 12.3 and Armon Johnson is at 10.3. Fields is hitting 50 percent of his 3-point shots in the past four games.
Sophomore Matt LaGrone was inserted into the starting lineup two games ago for senior Demarshay Johnson, and he’s given the team a boost. In the win over San Diego, LaGrone scored a career-best 12 points and played a career-best 24 minutes.
“I’m not surprised at all,” Fox said. “He plays like that every day in practice. You just see it in games now.”
• Contact Darrell Moody at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (775) 881-1281
CENTRAL FLORIDA (5-4) AT NEVADA (4-4)
When: Today, 5 p.m.
Where: Lawlor Events Center
TV-Radio: None/630AM, pregame starts at 4:30 p.m.
Coaches: Nevada’s Mark Fox (85-22) in his 4th season; Central Florida’s Kirk Speraw (236-191) is in his 14th season
Probable starters: UCF – F Kenrick Zondervan (7.0, 5.4); C Stanley Billings (5.1, 3.9); G Jermaine Taylor (17.7, 4.7), Dave Noel (11.9, 5.9), Mike O’Donnell (11.7, 2.1). NEVADA – F Matt LaGrone (3.4, 2.4); C JaVale McGee (13.6, 7.1); G Marcelus Kemp (18.1, 6.1), Brandon Fields (12.3, 2.6), Armon Johnson (10.3, 4.6)