Revenge on Nevada hoops team’s mind
For the Nevada Appeal
RENO – Brandon Fields wasn’t about to hide his true emotions.
“Revenge does play a factor in this,” the Nevada senior guard said of the Wolf Pack’s rematch against the Fresno State Bulldogs at 7:05 p.m. today (Channel 21) at Lawlor Events Center. “I don’t want to be swept by anybody.”
Fresno State, which beat Nevada 87-77 on Jan. 23 in Fresno, will be shooting for its first two-game Western Athletic Conference season sweep over the Pack since the 2000-01 season.
“They have a lot of talent,” Pack sophomore Luke Babbitt said. “We definitely have a lot to worry about.”
The Bulldogs will also have even more talent than they had last month in Fresno when the Pack came to town. Paul George, a 6-foot-8 physical, athletic guard who leads Fresno State in scoring (15.3) and rebounding (7.2), is back on the court after missing four games with an ankle injury late last month.
“They’ll be a very dangerous team,” Pack junior Armon Johnson said. “They were dangerous without him.”
The Bulldogs attacked the Wolf Pack inside back on Jan. 23 with 6-10 freshman Greg Smith (25 points) and 6-10 senior Sylvester Seay (12). Smith and Seay’s physical play got two of the Pack’s big men (Dario Hunt and Marko Cukic) in foul trouble and forced seldom-used Keith Olson to play 12 minutes (three rebounds, two points).
Hunt, who has started all 24 games this year, and Cukic played 26 minutes combined that night in Fresno and combined for more fouls (eight) than either points (four) or rebounds (seven).
“Dario was out of position in that game,” Pack coach David Carter said. “Against players like that you have to be in position before they catch the ball. We talked about it and Dario has learned from it.
“Dario has to stay out of foul trouble for us to be successful.”
Carter added that Olson will not be available Wednesday night because of a sprained knee.
Carter doesn’t expect Fresno’s game plan to change even with George back on the floor.
“They are going to do what they do well,” Carter said. “They attack us inside, just like last time.”
Smith and Seay, however, weren’t the only Bulldogs who hurt the Pack in Fresno.
Fresno State also got unexpected production from five players (Brandon Sperling, Steve Shepp, Nedeljko Golubovic, Mike Ladd and Jerry Brown) who don’t normally contribute in a big way. Those five, who are averaging just under 25 points a game this year combined, teamed up to score 50 on the Pack in Fresno.
“Their whole team is very good offensively,” Babbitt said.
George, who returned to the lineup with 30 points on Feb. 11 in an 83-64 win over Hawaii, just gives the Pack one more Bulldog to worry about.
“He’s going to require a lot of attention,” said Johnson, who was named the WAC Player of the Week on Monday for his work in a pair of Pack victories over Idaho and Boise State last week.
George played two games against the Pack last year and averaged 8.0 points a game. He scored 16 in a 65-60 Wolf Pack victory in Reno and was held scoreless (0-for-7 from the field) in a 68-66 Fresno win in Fresno. In the Bulldogs’ win in Fresno, George missed three layups and a dunk and took just two shots in the second half. He did, however, finish with seven rebounds and four steals.
“He’s just so hard to defend,” Fields said. “He’s tough and physical and very athletic. And even when he doesn’t score, he’s a very good defensive player.”
The Wolf Pack, who has just five WAC games left, will likely sew up a top-four finish in the WAC with a victory over Fresno. The Pack, 15-9 overall, 7-4 in the WAC, is in fourth place just ahead of the Bulldogs (13-13, 6-6).
“The last time they just hit us in the mouth,” said senior Joey Shaw. “We have to show our toughness this time and take care of them at our house.”
Utah State is the only opposing team this year in 12 games to come into the Pack’s house and get a win. Fresno is 3-9 away from home.
“They’ll be a different team with George this time but we’ll be a different team, too,” Babbitt said. “We’re a different team at home and they are a different team on the road.”