Rivalry hitting the court at Lawlor | NevadaAppeal.com

Rivalry hitting the court at Lawlor

Appeal Sports Writer

RENO – Nevada is looking to extend three streaks when it hosts in-state rival UNLV tonight at Lawlor Events Center.

Tip-off is at 8:05 p.m. which an hour later than normal because of winter graduation earlier in the day at Lawlor. The game is a sellout, the third in the last two years for the Wolf Pack.

Nevada, 7-0, currently has a three-game winning streak against UNLV, has won 12 straight games at Lawlor Events Center and is looking for its eighth straight win of the season, the best start since the 1951-52 season when Nevada won 14 straight to start the season.

It won’t be an easy task. UNLV is 6-2 and coming off a 61-58 win at Hawai’i, which is difficult to do as Nevada has found out in recent years.

“They are a very good basketball team,” Nevada coach Mark Fox said. “They have a lot of different guys who can make plays. I think they are better than a year ago even though they don’t have (Louis) Amundson. They are really playing well.

“They won over there (Hawai’i), and as we know, that is difficult to do.”

Fox pointed out that UNLV, without Amundson and Dustin Villepigue, are much more perimeter oriented this year. He’s especially impressed with Wink Adams (14.6), senior transfer Kevin Kruger (11.2) and wing Wendell White (15.5). Michael Umeh, another talented outside player, won’t play because of an injury.

“Wendell is playing great,” Fox said. “He’s been their leading scorer and rebounder. They are an outstanding team.”

Veteran UNLV coach Lon Kruger doesn’t have a player over 6-9, nor anybody with the post presence that Amundson had, which is one of the reasons he has a more perimeter-based attack this year.

“For sure,” Kruger said. “With (Michael) Umeh out (injury) it changes that, but we’re a little bit more perimeter-oriented this year.”

The biggest change in UNLV this year is the emergence of White and the addition of Kruger’s son, Kevin, who played three seasons in the Pac-10.

“He’s (White) physically better,” Kruger said. “Last year he was coming off that broken foot, and he was a little overweight. He had a good fall and a good summer, and he’s in really good shape.

“Kevin is experienced. He had an ankle sprain that set him back. He’s getting close to 100 percent.”

Gaston Essengue played well enough to beat returnee Joel Anthony out for a starting job up front, but the 6-9 Anthony still plays plenty of minutes. Joe Darger has given the Rebels a lift off the bench with his 3-point shooting.

“He (Essengue) is getting more and more comfortable,” Kruger said. “He needs to get more reps. Joel needs to get reps.”

Fox finally showed tape on UNLV to his players Thursday, but obviously feels better knowing that he’ll have All-American Nick Fazekas.

The Pack’s multi-talented 6-11 forward, who leads the nation in rebounding at 13.7 a game, suffered a rib injury last Sunday against Cal, but was declared fit to play by the training staff. He’ll wear a padded vest under his jersey.

“I’m close to 100 percent, and I’ll be 100 percent by Saturday (today),” Fazekas said. “I don’t think I’ll be gun shy.”

The injury hampered Fazekas the entire second half against Cal when he scored just three points. However, Kyle Shiloh, Marcelus Kemp and Ramon Sessions picked up the slack offensively.

The ability of that trio plus Fazekas is enough to concern any coach in America, and Kruger is no exception.

“They present tons of problems,” Kruger said. “They have so many scorers, but it still starts with Fazekas. The others are very good players. They can all step up and hurt you.

“There’s a fine line. You have to try to guard all of them. They are all threats.”

Even the Pack’s top two subs – David Ellis and Lyndale Burleson – can knock down the 3-pointer. Ellis has made his only attempt, but has shown the past two years that he has that range, and Burleson has hit a respectable 33 percent of his attempts.

As a team, Nevada is shooting 50 percent from the floor, led by Fazekas’ 60 percent mark. Nevada is shooting 47 percent from beyond the arc, and Fazekas has hit 53.3 percent.

Notes: Despite losing the last three and four of the last six, UNLV holds a 48-19 edge all-time against the Pack … Fox remains noncommittal on the future of Demarshay Johnson, who is expected to become eligible by Christmas. The only thing Fox has said is that he would do what’s best for the team and for Johnson’s academic future … Despite some defensive lapses in recent games, Nevada is No. 2 in field goal percentage (allowed) and 3-point percentage (allowed) at 33.7 and 30.2, respectively. The Pack is also No. 2 in scoring defense and rebounding … Nevada has won 42 of its last 43 games when holding opponents to 60 points or less.

• Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281

UNLV (6-2) at NEVADA (7-0)

When: Tonight, 8:05 p.m.

Where: Lawlor Events Center

TV: Shown in Las Vegas on Ch. 8

Radio: ESPN Radio 630 AM, pregame at 7:30

Probable starters: UNLV – F Corey Bailey (3.0, 0.8), Wendell White (15.5, 6.4); C Gaston Essengue (5.9, 3.2); G Wink Adams (14.6, 3.8), Kevin Kruger (11.2, 3.8). NEVADA – Nick Fazekas (22.6, 13.7), Denis Ikovlev (6.0, 4.4); G Marcelus Kemp (19.1, 2.6), Kyle Shiloh (9.1, 2.4), Ramon Sessions (12.9, 3.7)