Nevada travels to face Pacific in men’s hoops
Appeal Sports Writer
STOCKTON, Calif. – If you look back at the last four years of the Nevada-Pacific basketball rivalry one thing stands out – close games.
The last four meetings, two Nevada wins and two Pacific wins, have been decided by a total of 23 points.
Nevada, 2-3, has won the last two meetings and hopes to make it three straight when it visits the Tigers, 4-2, tonight at 7 (KAME TV, ESPN Radio 630 AM) at the Spanos Center.
“Pacific has a very good program, and we’ve had very good games with them,” Nevada coach Mark Fox said Friday morning in a conference call. “There has been good basketball on both ends. Athletically they are a fine team.”
Pacific coach Bob Thomason is in his 20th season, and coached the Tigers back in the Big West days when Nevada was a team he saw twice a year.
“I think it’s been a good one (series),” said Thomason, whose Tigers lead the all-time series 48-44. “It’s been a good tradition. Mark and I don’t like to play each other (because of our friendship).”
It’s a rivalry that makes sense given the proximity of the schools. Both schools have been among the top mid-majors in the country in recent years. Nevada has made four straight trips to the NCAAs and UOP was there two years ago, losing an overtime thriller to Boston College.
According to Fox, this is a typical Tiger team, meaning it will have plenty of good shooters.
“As usual, they have terrific guard play, great execution and an athletic front line,” Fox said. “They are a very complete team. Steffan (Johnson) is a great starting point.”
Johnson leads the Tigers at 17 points a game. Chad Troyer averages 13 and Anthony Brown is averaging 10.5. Brown played with Pack center David Ellis in high school at Capital Christian in Sacramento.
“I think so,” Fox said when asked if he has seen improvement in Brown’s game since last year. “He’s shooting his foul shots better.”
Brown is shooting 78 percent from the line and 51 percent from the floor. He has a dependable mid-range game.
The Tigers can shoot it from long range, as Johnson is knocking down 52 percent of his 3-point attempts and Troyer is at 45 percent. That alone will force Nevada to guard the perimeter hard.
Defense, according to Fox, is critical to any success the Pack might have tonight.
“We have not been consistent defensively,” Fox said. “We have had our moments. We’ve got to find some way to defend them.”
Opposing teams are shooting 43 percent overall from the floor and 35 percent from beyond the arc against Nevada in the first five games. No doubt Fox would like to see that overall mark down in the mid-30s.
Meanwhile, Thomason knows his team will have its hands full with the front line of 7-1 JaVale McGee and 6-9 Demarshay Johnson plus 6-5 guard Marcelus Kemp.
“They are so athletic up front,” Thomason said. “They block shots and can score. (Michael) Nunnally is pretty athletic. Anthony (Brown) is not quite as athletic as people think he is. Michael should be able to play with them.
“Kemp is a great player. Their other players are very athletic. We are going to have to play a very good game (to win).”
Thomason is concerned about his backcourt rotation. He likes to play five guards, four getting the bulk of the minutes. Other than Troyer and Johnson, he isn’t getting much production.
Neither C.J. Morgan (2.5), James Doran (1.8) or Terrell Smith (1.3) have distinguished themselves.
Notes: Until Nevada won in Stockton two years ago, the Pack had lost 20 straight on the road to the Tigers … Nevada is looking to avoid its first three-game losing streak since the 2000-01 season … Nevada has won 20 of its last 27 games away from Lawlor Events Center … Nevada has been outrebounded in three of its first five games this season … Nevada is shooting just 30 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, as Kemp has been the main threat from long range.