Nevada to host San Jose State
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – One has to appreciate the business-like approach of Nevada basketball coach Mark Fox and his 10th-ranked squad.
The focus is always the next game and nothing beyond that. That’s not always an easy thing to do, especially when a team gets ranked in the top 10 of a national poll for the first time in school history, and is three wins away from clinching to no worse than a tie for its fourth straight Western Athletic Conference regular-season crown.
Yet since beating Fresno State on the road last Thursday, the Wolf Pack’s only focus has been on San Jose State (3-9, 4-20), which invades Lawlor Events Center tonight (7:05 p.m.) in a key WAC game.
The Spartans under second-year coach George Nessman are an improved team despite their 4-20 record. They played Stanford, Long Beach State (tops in Big West) twice, Cal-State Fullerton, Duke and BYU during their nonconference schedule, and they were missing leading scorer Carlton Spencer (14.4) the entire time because he was academically ineligible.
The Spartans have had only two bad games in conference play – a 92-56 loss at Louisiana Tech and a 72-52 loss at Hawai’i. Every other game, home or away, has been decided by nine points or less. San Jose State has been involved in six games decided by three points or less, and they are 3-3 in those games.
“San Jose is a team playing its best basketball (of the year).” Nevada coach Mark Fox said. “Obviously with the first semester and not having any home games and (Carlton) Spencer not playing … they are a much different team this semester. We have to get ready to play, and we’ll have to play well to win.”
Nevada has won five straight since its road loss at New Mexico State. The Pack has put together seven and 10-game winning streaks this season.
“Obviously they’re the top team in our conference, and one of the best in the country,” SJSU coach George Nessman said. “The last time we played they didn’t have Nick Fazekas available to them, and it makes them more formidable when he’s in there.
“They are getting close to locking it (regular-season title) up again. We’re going to go up there and give it everything we have.”
And, although Nevada won 72-63 without Fazekas, Fox makes no bones about the fact he likes having his All-American forward in there.
“It’s certainly preferable having Nick compared to not having him,” Fox said. “We had to rebuild our team when we were without Nick briefly. We’re more confident having him back.”
While Fazekas is back for the Pack, the Spartans enter this game short-handed.
Starting forward Devonte Thomas has been declared out, and Nessman doesn’t expect to have the services of guard Kevin Buggs. He will, however, have 6-7 forward Tim Pierce back from an ankle injury. Also 6-9 Kerry Wooldridge, who has been ill, may be able to play tonight. Nessman also said that 6-10 Menelik Barbary has been banged up but able to play through his injury.
“He (Barbary) is a great rebounder,” Fazekas said. “He’s one of the better players in the league. He’s long and athletic. He could start on a lot of different teams.”
“Certainly Nick has the experience and he’s strong,” Fox said when asked about defending Barbary down on the low block. “Barbary is a really good player.”
Nessman has been pleased with the performances of forward Lance Holloway and guard Jamon Hill.
“He (Hill) was inconsistent in the preseason,” Nessman said. “During the WAC (season) he’s had some really nice games. He’s super steady. He’s doing a little bit of everything. Lance has been playing a lot better. When he’s able to contribute 6, 8 or 10 points we’re that much better.”
Nessman said that with Pierce in the lineup, teams can’t sag down so much on Barbary because of Pierce’s ability to shoot the 3-pointer.
• Contact Darrell Moody at email@example.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281