Pack dances to a fifth seed
By Martin Griffith
The Associated Press
RENO – Nevada coach Mark Fox turned to an old friend for advice on what to expect from Montana in the opening round of the NCAA tournament Thursday in Salt Lake City.
He put in a call to his predecessor, Stanford coach Trent Johnson, after he learned the Wolf Pack would face the Big Sky Conference school.
“He said it’s a bad draw and he thinks we have our hands full,” Fox said, declining to divulge Johnson’s advice. “I don’t know a lot about them and we’ll have to do some study. They’re an excellent team.”
Johnson should know about the Grizzlies as they defeated Stanford, 88-69, in December at Missoula. Fifth-seeded Nevada enters the game against No. 12 seed Montana with a 14-game winning streak, second longest in the nation to Gonzaga’s 18.
Nevada (27-5) added the Western Athletic Conference tournament trophy to its regular season championship with a 70-63 overtime win over Utah State on Saturday night. Montana (23-6) finished second in the regular season, but won the Big Sky championship with a victory over Northern Arizona on Wednesday.
Either Nevada or Montana will face the winner of Thursday’s game between fourth-seeded Boston College and No. 13 seed Pacific.
“We can’t worry about that. Our only focus is on Montana,” Fox said at a news conference.
The No. 5 seed was the highest ever for Nevada, which is making its third straight trip to the NCAA tournament.
In 2004, the Wolf Pack upset Michigan State and Gonzaga as a No. 10 seed en route to the Sweet 16. Last year, Nevada beat Texas as a No. 9 seed before losing to top-seeded Illinois.
“We feel like we’re carrying a lot of momentum into the tournament,” said Nevada forward Nick Fazekas, the WAC’s two-time player of the year. “We are feeling good and have a lot of confidence.
“This year’s team has a lot of weapons. It has a lot of mental toughness and drive,” he said.
But Fazekas said the team is well aware that No. 5 seeds regularly fall to No. 12 seeds in the tournament.
“It was nice to get the high seed but it doesn’t mean very much,” Fazekas said. “We’re still going to have to play well to beat Montana.”
The matchup will seem like old times because the two schools used to compete until Nevada left the Big Sky in 1992.
Montana leads the series, 21-16, and defeated Nevada, 75-68, when the schools last played in the 2001-2002 season.
“We know we can win games and we need to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Nevada forward Mo Charlo said. “One of the keys is defense. That gets us going and leads to easy baskets and dunks.”
Fazekas isn’t sure Nevada’s tournament experience gives it the edge. Montana is making its second straight tournament appearance after losing to Washington in the opening round last year.
“Montana has been there and done that,” Fazekas said. “No one is going to be a cupcake in the tournament and you have to beat some good teams. You have to play with enormous energy to win.”
Utah State gained some consolation by becoming a No. 12 seed against fifth-seeded Washington on Thursday in San Diego.
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