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Wolf Pack hoops ready to host Runnin’ Rebels

BY DARRELL MOODY

Nevada Appeal Sports Writer

RENO ” Quite simply, UNLV has put the clamps on the Nevada basketball team the past two seasons.

In 2006-07, UNLV knocked off the Wolf Pack 58-49, and last year put a 79-67 beating on Nevada at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Nevada hopes to end two years of frustration when it hosts in-state rival UNLV today at 7:35 p.m. at Lawlor Events Center. The game will be broadcast on ESPN Radio 630 AM.

Both teams are coming off victories. Nevada, 3-3, edged Colorado State on the road, 82-76, and UNLV, 6-2, edged Fresno State, 82-76.

Nevada coach Mark Fox said his team is making some strides, but has a long way to go. Fox, who has great respect for the Runnin’ Rebels, knows his team will have its hands full tonight.

“They are a great defensive team,” Fox said. “I think our lack of backcourt experience hurt us last year. Two years ago, we couldn’t make a shot.

“They are a team that takes a lot of pride in their defense. They are a terrific team. They pose a great challenge.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint. I try to remind them of that. We’ve made progress. I’m most pleased with their approach. They want to get better.”

UNLV coach Lon Kruger laughed when a reporter asked about his secret to beating Nevada so handily the last two years.

“I don’t know if there is any secret,” Kruger said. “We try to pressure and play everybody hard. We go in with a plan. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. We try to get up and down the floor and disrupt what the other team is trying to do. We try to keep people from what they do everyday in practice.

“I know we have to play better than we have been to beat them. I don’t think we’re playing like we need to in order to beat a team that Mark puts on the floor.”

UNLV opened the season with five straight wins before losing two straight at home to California and Cincinnati prior to the Fresno State win.

One of Kruger’s concerns is the lack of a consistent inside game and the recent shooting woes of senior guard Wink Adams, who was 5-for-28 in the losses to California and Cincinnati and followed that up with a 5-for-15 effort against Fresno State.

“He had a tough weekend,” Kruger said. “He didn’t shoot well at all. He bounced back a little against Fresno State. Confidence is a big thing. He keeps working hard at it.

“Darris (Santee) made some big plays (inside). When we can do that, we have better balance. We’re always going to shoot freely from the perimeter. That helps the inside game. We have to step up and make shots.”

Adams is likely to see a lot of Wolf Pack senior guard Lyndale Burleson, who usually draws the toughest backcourt assignment.

“He’s a good player,” Burleson said of Adams. “He’s a tough guard. I’ll have to be on my ‘A’ game.”

Tre’Von Willis (10.4 points per game), a transfer from Memphis, Joe Darger (9.5 ppg), Santee (8.8 ppg) and Rene Rougeau (8.9 ppg) give UNLV a potent offense to complement Adams.

“Wink doesn’t have to score 20 to win,” Fox said. “Their experience shows in how they play. That’s a big key for them. They are pretty complete. Their role players are complete.”

It will definitely be a challenge for the Wolf Pack defense which has been inconsistent through the first six games, largely because of inexperience.

One Pack player who has been inconsistent thus far is point guard Armon Johnson, who is coming off a 23-point effort against Colorado State. Johnson scored 15 against UNLV last season.

“I hope so,” Johnson when asked if this was a sign of things to come. “We got a win and helped the team to victory.”

Fox said Johnson’s early inconsistencies stem from the absence of former standouts Marcelus Kemp and JaVale McGee.

“He was trying to do too much,” Fox said of Johnson. “He played much better the other night.”

“He (Johnson) had a terrific game against us last year,” Kruger said. “He kept the pressure on and made shots.”

Freshman Luke Babbitt remains the most consistent offensive player. He’s averaging 15 points a contest and has reached double figures in five of Nevada’s first six games.

“Luke can do so many things,” Kruger said. “He’s a complete player. He can shoot from the perimeter and put the ball on the floor.”

Fox was asked how he expected UNLV to defend Babbitt.

“I don’t know,” Fox said. “He’s going to have to learn to play against different defenses. We’ve talked about that. We’ll have to see how they match up.”

NOTES: Nevada has won 38 of its last 43 games at Lawlor, including 13 of the last 16 dating back to last season. Since the start of the 2003-04 season, Nevada has won 88 percent of the time at home … UNLV leads the series 50-19… Prior to the last two years, the Wolf Pack had won the three prior meetings and four of the last six games between the two teams, including a 68-61 win at UNLV on Nov. 26, 2005 in Las Vegas.

– Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com or (775) 881-1281