PREVIEW - NEVADA v CALIFORNIA @ THE PETE NEWELL CHALLENGE
Last year, Nevada was more of an inside-out team with 6'10" Kevinn Pinkney playing alongside Fazekas down low. Pinkney is gone, and as a result the Wolf Pack is a much smaller team, often playing a lineup where the tallest player outside Fazekas stands 6'7".
While the Pack is 6-0 and ranked #24 in the nation, they've struggled at times to establish the inside game. Against Santa Clara, a team that Cal thoroughly dominated, Nevada was outscored in the paint 47-26. Cal's advantage is that they start two athletic big men to Nevada's one.
Nick Fazekas (above) is a monster who will play at the next level. His stat line thus far is sick (though against middling competition) - .651 from the floor, 24.3 ppg and 13.3 rpg in only 29 minutes. He is likely the best player Cal will face this year, with great court instincts and the ability to draw opposing big men into quick foul trouble. The other scorer is 6'5" Marcellus Kemp who is averaging nearly 20 ppg, usually at the three. He's shooting .515 from 3-point range. Kemp and Fazekas account for more than 40% of Nevada's shots, which tells you they're a well-coached team.
PG Ramon Sessions is a pass-first guy who distributes well and plays solid defense. Kyle Shiloh (6'3", 8.3 ppg) plays the 2 and is one of the Wolfpack's primary threats from 3-point range, though he's been a bit off this year at .370. He's also regarded as the Pack's best defender. The fifth starter is undersized PF Denis Ikovlev, a juco transfer. Against Cal, expect to see Ikovlev come off the bench in favor of junior center David Ellis (7'1"), who is limited offensively. Off the bench, Lyndale Robinson is a serviceable backup point who comes from a Pac-10 family (father Al was a standout DB at UW). Freshman power forward Lavale McGee is long (6'11") but untested.
From Cal's perspective, everything seems to be clicking since the uninspired win over Marshall. The defense is back, and DeVon Hardin has had two consecutive strong outings. The Bears are still very thin up front, and they would become a less imposing challenge for the Pack if either Anderson or Hardin are forced to the bench for long spells.
Prediction: Nevada is a seasoned, disciplined team that will be much more of a challenge than K-State. Fans hoping for a fast-paced game might be disapointed, because Cal's best bet is to hammer the ball inside and force Fazekas to defend and pick up fouls. Fazekas will get his twenty-something, but the Bears can win if they limit Kemp from the perimeter. Before the season we had this chalked up as a loss, but right now we're willing to ride the wave for one more game.
California 75 Nevada 72