Pack improving, but still need to be more consistent
By SCOTT SONNER
Associated Press Writer
RENO, Nev. (AP) ” Two-thirds of the way through the season, Nevada basketball coach Mark Fox said Monday his young team is still struggling to find some consistency but continues to improve.
He also said he has no intention of moving 6-foot-3 sophomore Armon Johnson from point guard to off-guard, partly because if Johnson some day makes it to the NBA it will have to be as a point guard.
Nevada (13-8, 6-2 in the Western Athletic Conference) has won six of its last seven games since losing its WAC opener at home to Idaho on Jan. 3.
“We had a few people in panic mode,” Fox recalled after the Vandals’ upset dropped the Wolf Pack’s record to 7-7. “Luckily one of them wasn’t me.”
The Wolf Pack’s only loss during that stretch was last week at Utah State (21-1, 9-0). They host Louisiana Tech (8-14, 2-7) Thursday and New Mexico State (11-11, 5-4) on Saturday in a game that has been moved to 5 p.m. to be carried on ESPN2.
They also learned Monday they will host Virginia Commonwealth (16-6, 9-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association) in an ESPN Bracketbuster game on Feb. 20.
“I do think our team is getting better,” Fox told a crowd of about 200 at a booster luncheon Monday.
“We certainly still have a lot of room to grow up. But our defense is to the point now where it is fairly consistent. Our rebounding margin in league play has been good enough (plus 5.7 per game) and we’re getting closer offensively. It’s amazing with young kids how up and down it can be,” he said about the squad that has only one senior, three juniors, three sophomores and two freshmen.
“The one thing we are still searching for is consistency. If our team is going to be good, we have to have about 10 of them be good,” he said.
“One of the things we want to do, especialy with as young of team as we have, is get better every day, better every week, better every month. And I think we’ve been able to do that. If we can continue to get better, I like our chances when we get to March. … I think we have a chance to be good.”
Fox said he thought his team looked fatigued ” and a couple of his players told him so much ” when it squandered a 4-point halftime lead at Utah State to lose 72-61.
“We’re not as physically mature as we’ve been in previous years,” he said.
Freshman Luke Babbitt, who is leading the team in scoring with 16.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game is “off to a good start,” Fox said.
Johnson is averaging 13 points per game and “continuing to grow and starting to get some help from players around him,” he said.
Sophomore forward Malik Cooke has been a “jack of all trades” and fairly consistent while senior guard Lyndale Burleson has been “maybe our most consistent player,” Fox said.
“His defensive performance, which never shows up in the stat sheet, has really been critical for our team’s program,” he said. “He is never going to be a guy who averages 15 points per game and he understands that, but he makes such a huge impact on defense.”
One of the boosters asked Fox if he was considering moving Johnson to the off guard position, the spot he played most of his career at Reno’s Hug High School. Fox said no.
“Armon’s getting plenty of shots” at the point guard position,” Fox said.
Junior Brandon Fields has played point guard some but is more a “scorer slasher,” he said.
“Armon, if he wants to become a pro… it has to be at the point guard position. So we’re trying to develop his skills at that spot. I anticipate that is where he’ll stay unless I change my way of thinking, but I don’t think I’m going to do that.”