Sessions, Pack school Gonzaga
December 30, 2006
SEATTLE, Wash. – The shot clock was furiously winding down toward zero.
Nevada’s Ramon Sessions, nicknamed Cassius by his teammates because of his facial resemblance to Muhammed Ali, didn’t panic. He calmly dribbled and surveyed the floor, looking for the slightest opening to get off a shot before the buzzer.
And what a shot he landed. It was a knockout in the truest sense of the word.
Sessions tossed in a floating one-hander from just beyond the 3-point arc to snap a 67-all tie and spark a game-ending 21-7 run, leading No. 18 Nevada to a wild 82-74 nonconference win over Gonzaga Saturday in the 4th annual Battle of Seattle at KeyArena.
What makes the win even more impressive is that Nevada, 12-1, played the final 5 minutes 15 seconds without All-American forward Nick Fazekas, who fouled out for only the second time in his Nevada career after scoring 24 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
“We’ve had bigger wins,” Fazekas said. “It’s just another game. It is a high-level win. It’s bigger (and more important) to win in March then what is this, December?
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“The hardest thing was not being able to help them. It shows we’re tough. This team is more than just me even though I’m a big part of it, it’s a team game; five guys out there at a time. It’s a big confidence booster for everyone.”
Nevada coach Mark Fox agreed.
“I don’t think they (the other Nevada players) panicked,” he said. “They buckled down and did the job. Gonzaga is a very good team; a tournament team.
“It was a high-level game. We train at altitude, and I think we had a little more juice in our tank at the end. Ramon was terrific. He is a competitor. He’s a tough kid.”
Nevada needed every bit of that grit on Saturday. Sessions showed the same determination that he did against Cal when he scored 12 of his 14 points in the final five minutes of the Pack’s 77-71 win. In that game, Fazekas wasn’t at full strength down the stretch because of bruised ribs.
Fazekas picked up his third foul with a shade more than 13 minutes left, and he got his fourth with 10:15 left. He actually scored two baskets before Fox could get him out of there. When the Zags puled to within one, he went back into the game at the 7:30 mark, but lasted a bit over a minute before picking up the final foul.
When Fazekas went to the sidelines with the score tied at 61, the Zags probably thought their two-game losing streak was over.
“Anytime an opponent loses their best player, you always feel you have to get this team right now,” Jeremy Pargo said.
Gonzaga took advantage of Fazekas’ absence by running off six straight points for a 67-61 lead with 3:58 left, but a putback by David Ellis, two free throws by Sessions and a jump shot by Marcelus Kemp (21 points) tied the game at 67 with 2:10 remaining.
Gonzaga’s Josh Heytvelt had a chance to put his team ahead, but he missed a lay-up, setting the stage for Sessions’ big shot with 1:14 left.
“The shot clock was winding down, and Denis (Ikovlev) gave me a good screen, and I threw it up and it went in,” said Sessions. “All coach Fox said was to run the offense and the shots would be there.”
“They made the fluke three,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “I thought we played terrific defense (on him).”
Sessions scored all 20 of his points in the second half, 11 in the final three minutes of the game.
“I knew he had it in him,” Fazekas said. “I always feel good when he does that stuff. He’s improved his free throws, too. He shot free throws well down the stretch.”
Nevada wasn’t through.
After Kemp stole a pass, Ikovlev knocked down a three-ball for a 73-67 lead with 47.4 left.
“That was the biggest shot he’s hit in his life,” Fazekas said. “That’s what we brought him here for.”
Derek Raivio (15 points) turned the ball over on the Zags’ next possession, and the Zags were forced to foul. Sessions drained two free throws for a 75-67 lead with 37.6 remaining, capping a 14-0 Nevada run.
Gonzaga trimmed the deficit to five two times, but Kemp’s pressure-packed free-throw shooting down the stretch kept the Zags at bay.
Few was asked about the Zags’ inability to get the ball inside down the stretch, but he pointed out that Nevada played zone once Fazekas left the game.
“I’m not wild about playing zone,” Fox said. “We had poor match-ups.”
Nevada had several big scoring surges, and not to be overlooked was the one at the end of the first half.
The Zags, led by Heytvelt’s five points went on a 12-3 run for a 30-16 lead with 3:54 left.
Nevada retaliated with 11-0 half-ending surge thanks to eight points by Fazekas and a critical 3-pointer by Lyndale Burleson to cut the deficit to 32-29.
“We weren’t shooting well and we gave them easy baskets in transition,” Fox said. “Nick got a couple of good looks and Lyndale hit the big three.”
Nevada built an eight-point lead, 58-50, thanks to two baskets by Sessions and two by Fazekas in an 8-2 run. That was Nevada’s biggest lead of the game.
“That was a heck of a ballgame,” Few said. “Give Nevada credit. They lost their best player (Fazekas) and they stepped up and made plays.
“Nevada is such a solid, tough team. They have a lot of moxie. They have won a lot; they’re veterans. They are rock solid.”
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