SOUTHERN ILLINOIS SALUKIS (3-4) at NEVADA WOLF PACK (4-4)
Sunday, Dec. 14, 2008 - 3:05 p.m. PT - Lawlor Events Center (11,536) - Reno, Nev.
TELEVISION: Live internet streaming at www.nevadawolfpack.com (subscription fee)
RADIO: University of Nevada Sports Network (ESPN Radio 630 AM, Reno;
KELK 1240 AM, Elko; KHWG 750 AM, Fallon & KSVL 92.3 FM, Yerington)
Ryan Radtke (play-by-play), pregame show starts at 7 p.m. PT
SERIES HISTORY: Southern Illinois leads the series with Nevada 3-0.
LAST MEETING: Southern Illinois won the last meeting between the two teams, turning in a 74-49 victory on Feb. 23, 2007 in Carbondale, Ill.
Coming off a 95-39 win over Sonoma State on Tuesday, the five-time defending Western Athletic Conference champion Nevada Wolf Pack (4-4) continues its season-long four-game homestand with Southern Illinois (3-4) on Sunday afternoon. Sunday’s game will tip off at 3:05 p.m. at Lawlor Events Center and can be heard on Nevada’s radio flagship, ESPN 630 AM, and affiliates with Ryan Radtke calling the action. Sunday’s game is a rematch of last year’s BracketBusters game in Carbondale, Ill. The Wolf Pack avoided its first back-to-back losses of the season with Tuesday’s victory over the Seawolves and is playing seven of eight games at Lawlor Events Center, where the team has won 14 of its last 18 contests. Following Sunday’s game with the Salukis, Nevada will end its four-game homestand with Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Wed., Dec. 17 before heading to California on Saturday, Dec. 20.
Under the direction of fifth-year head coach Mark Fox, the Wolf Pack returns two starters and a total of seven letterwinners from last year’s 21-12 team, including the coaches’ preseason WAC Player of the Year Armon Johnson who started 32 of 33 games last season as a true freshman. This year’s team also features five new faces (a junior college transfer and four true freshmen). Last season, Nevada turned in its fifth consecutive year with at least 20 wins, won its fifth straight WAC regular-season title and earned the team’s six consecutive postseason appearance with an invitation to the inaugural College Basketball Invitational.
WINNING AT LAWLOR
The Wolf Pack has won 39 of its last 45 contests at Lawlor Events Center, including 14 of its last 18 home games dating back to last season. Including a 13-3 mark in 2007-08, the Wolf Pack has turned in a 75-11 record at Lawlor Events Center since the start of the 2003-04 season (.872 winning percentage). Last year, Nevada’s loss to California on Nov. 28, 2007 snapped a 13-game home winning streak. The streak had been the longest active home winning streak in the WAC and the 12th-longest in the nation. Prior to the Cal loss, Nevada had not dropped a home contest since falling to UNLV on Dec. 9, 2006.
Nevada has also captured 20 of its last 21 WAC regular-season home games and 23 of its last 25 home games against WAC opponents counting the 2006 WAC Tournament. A Jan. 19, 2008 loss to Boise State snapped the Wolf Pack’s 14-game winning streak in WAC home games, including a perfect 8-0 mark in 2006-07 and a 2-0 mark to start the 2007-08 season (finished 7-1). That 14-game win streak had dated back to January of 2006.
ABOUT THE SOUTHERN ILLINOIS SALUKIS
Southern Illinois brings a 3-4 mark into Saturday’s game with Nevada and has dropped four of its last five games, including losses to a pair of top 10 foes in Duke and UCLA. Most recently, the Salukis turned in a 64-48 win over Saint Louis on Dec. 2 and fell to Charlotte 66-64 on Dec. 6 (both games played in Carbondale). Under the direction of fifth-year head coach Chris Lowery (99-45 record at SIU), the Salukis returned two starters and five letterwinners from last year’s 18-15 NIT teams. Southern Illinois finished third in the Missouri Valley Conference with an 11-7 mark one season ago.
Sophomore forward Carlton Fay (6-8, 235) is leading Southern Illinois in both scoring and rebounding with 14.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game so far this year. Freshman guard Kevin Dillard (6-0, 160) and senior guard Bryan Mullins (6-1, 185) are turning in 9.7 and 9.4 points per game, respectively, while Mullins is leading the team with 6.4 assists per game. As a team, Southern Illinois is shooting 42.5 percent from the field. The Salukis have made 6.4 three-pointers per game and are making 42.1 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc, led by Dillard who is shooting 50.0 percent (12-24).
IN THE SERIES
Southern Illinois holds a 3-0 advantage in the all-time series with Nevada, including a 74-49 victory over the Wolf Pack on Feb. 23, 2007 in Carbondale, Ill., in last year’s BracketBusters game. That marked the first meeting between the two schools since the 1965-66 season.
The Wolf Pack holds a 7-13 all-time record against teams from the Missouri Valley Conference and has won four of its last five meetings with teams from that league. In addition to last year’s game at Southern Illinois, Nevada most recently turned in a 77-71 overtime win over Creighton on March 16, 2007 in the first round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament and notched a 55-52 victory at Northern Iowa on Dec. 22, 2007 in a rematch of the previous year’s BracketBusters contest.
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS CONNECTIONS
Nevada third-year assistant coach Doug Novsek lettered at Southern Illinois from 1983-87 and served as a team captain for two seasons. He earned his bachelor’s degree in management from SIU in 1987. A native of Lawrenceville, Ill., Novsek scored 814 points in 87 career games for the Salukis and still holds the school’s career record for three-point percentage, making 47.3 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc (87-184).
LAST TIME OUT
Freshman Luke Babbitt scored 16 points and pulled down seven rebounds as Nevada trounced Sonoma State 95-39 Tuesday night at Lawlor Events Center.
Sophomores Malik Cooke and Armon Johnson each added 14 points for Nevada. Freshman Ahyaro Phillips pulled down a career-high 12 rebounds to lead the Wolf Pack and go along with his career-best eight points.
The 39 points is the fewest allowed by Nevada since an 88-33 victory over Colorado-Colorado Springs on Nov. 20, 2004. Nevada, which never trailed, also avoided its first three-game losing streak at home since January 2001.
Nevada outscored Sonoma State 20-4 over the final eight minutes of the first half to take a 49-22 halftime lead. Nevada held Sonoma State to just 17 points in the second half and 23 percent shooting for the game.
All 12 players scored to combine for Nevada's season-best 95 points, while the team also shot a season-high 53.4 percent from the field and 87.1 percent from the free throw line (27-31).
BABBITT OPENS ROOKIE CAMPAIGN STRONG
Freshman Luke Babbitt has opened his first season in the Silver and Blue in strong fashion, leading the team in scoring and rebounding through the first eight games. The McDonald’s High School All-American ranks 10th in the WAC in scoring with 15.4 points per game and is sixth in the league with 7.8 rebounds per contest. He has turned in a pair of career-high 20-point efforts on the season (at Montana State and vs. Oregon State) and has led the team in scoring in five of eight games, including four of the last six. He has been in double figures for scoring in all but one contest this year, including a game-high 16 Tuesday vs. Sonoma State.
Babbitt has also paced the team in rebounding three times this season, including eight Nov. 29 at Portland. He turned in his first career double-double in his collegiate debut, tallying 20 points and 12 rebounds Nov. 15 at Montana State.
WOLF PACK NEWS & NOTES
- All 12 players scored for Nevada en route to the team’s season-high 95 points Tuesday vs. Sonoma State, led by freshman Luke Babbitt who had 16 on 6-of-10 shooting. The Wolf Pack also saw five players turn in career highs in the game, including sophomore Malik Cooke who tied his career best with 14 points. Others with career scoring highs included freshman Ahyaro Phillips (8), junior Richie Phillips (6), freshman London Giles (3) and sophomore Adam Carp (2).
- In addition to its season-high 95 points, Nevada also notched season bests for field goal percentage (.534), field goals made (31), three-point percentage (.500), free throws made (27) and attempted (31), free throw percentage (.871, 27-31), rebounds (52), assists (24) and blocked shots (12) vs. the Seawolves.
- The 56-point win was the biggest for the Wolf Pack since the team turned in an 88-33 win over Colorado-Colorado Springs on Nov. 20, 2004 at Lawlor Events Center.
- In addition to his career-best eight points, freshman Ahyaro Phillips also added a career-high 12 rebounds in 21 minutes vs. Sonoma State. He made all three of his field goal attempts and both of his free throw attempts.
- After shooting a season-best 87.1 percent from the free throw line Tuesday vs. Sonoma State, Nevada now leads the WAC in free throw percentage, hitting 74.5 percent of its attempts from the charity stripe so far this season. Junior Ray Kraemer has made all 12 of his free throw attempts on the year and would lead the WAC but falls short of the 2.0 minimum per game. Freshman Luke Babbitt is shooting 80.6 percent from the line (29-36) to rank fifth in the WAC, while junior Joey Shaw has made 14-of-18 (.778) and sophomore Malik Cooke is 25-of-35 (.714).
- Sophomore Armon Johnson led the team in scoring for the second time this season with 21 points Dec. 6 vs. UNLV. It was his second straight 20-point effort after tying his career high with 23 points Dec. 2 at Colorado State. Johnson paced the team in scoring four times last season and checks in at 13th in the WAC with 13.5 points per contest this year.
- Sophomore Malik Cooke also set a career best with six steals Dec. 6 vs. UNLV and checks in at third in the WAC with 2.13 steals per game. The Wolf Pack turned in a season-high 12 steals in its Nov. 22 win over Oregon State with four by junior Joey Shaw and three apiece by freshman Luke Babbitt and Cooke. As a team, Nevada is third in the WAC stats with 8.0 steals per contest.
- Nevada has had some up and down shooting nights this season, but after knocking down a season-best 53.4 percent of its attempts from the field on Tuesday, the Wolf Pack is now shooting 42.1 percent on the year. That 53.4 percent effort bested the team’s previous high of 51.7 percent from the field Dec. 2 at Colorado State. Nevada also turned in a season high from three-point land vs. the Seawolves, 50.0 percent (6-12) and is now at 27.9 percent for the year from beyond the arc.
- Freshman Luke Babbitt leads three Wolf Pack players in double figures for scoring this season. In addition to Babbitt’s 15.4 points per contest, sophomore Armon Johnson is turning in 13.5 points per game and junior Joey Shaw is at 10.0.
- Freshman Dario Hunt is leading the Wolf Pack and tied for sixth in the WAC with 1.63 blocks per game, including a career-best three Dec. 2 at Colorado State and again Tuesday vs. Sonoma State.
- Sophomore Armon Johnson dished out a career-high 11 assists in the Nov. 22 win over Oregon State to lead Nevada’s season-high 20-assist effort. Johnson also added 11 points vs. the Beavers for his first career double-double and the Wolf Pack’s first points-assists double-double since Ramon Sessions had 11 points and 10 assists in an 84-66 victory over Boise State on Jan. 15, 2005.
- Johnson is tied for third in the WAC with 5.0 assists per game this year and is third in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.11, 40 assists and just 19 turnovers). He has had just one turnover in three of Nevada’s eight games this year, most recently turning in five assists and one miscue Dec. 2 at Colorado State.
- Nevada is averaging 11.25 offensive rebounds per contest this year, which is tied for fourth in the WAC this year. The team pulled down a season-high 18 offensive boards in its Nov. 15 season opener at Montana State and had 15 Nov. 26 vs. Pacific. Sophomore Malik Cooke and freshman Luke Babbitt are ranked eighth and 10th in the WAC at 2.63 and 2.38 offensive rebounds per game, respectively.
- The Wolf Pack opened the year with a 2-3 record for the second consecutive season (now 4-4). Last year, Nevada turned in a 2-4 mark to start the year but won its next five games and finished the season with a 21-10 mark and a share of its fifth consecutive WAC regular-season championship. In 2003-04, Nevada also opened the year with a 2-3 mark. That year, the Wolf Pack opened the season with a win over Vermont before falling at then top-ranked Connecticut (both in the Preseason NIT). Nevada then turned in a 74-62 win at UNLV and dropped games at Portland and Pacific before reeling off wins in its next five games and seven of its next eight. The Wolf Pack finished with a 25-9 record that season, winning its first of four WAC regular-season championships and making the first NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearance in school history.
The Wolf Pack returns two starters and seven letterwinners from last year’s 21-12 team, including sophomore guard Armon Johnson. The 2008 WAC Freshman of the Year, Johnson started 32 of 33 games last season and finished fourth on the team with 11.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. He also led the team and ranked sixth in the WAC with 3.4 assists per contest. Other returning letterwinners includer senior guard Lyndale Burleson, junior guards Brandon Fields and Ray Kraemer, junior forward Richie Phillips and sophomore forwards Malik Cooke and Adam Carp.
Nevada’s roster features five new faces in junior Joey Shaw and true freshmen Luke Babbitt, London Giles, Dario Hunt and Ahyaro Phillips. Shaw started his collegiate career at Indiana University and comes to Nevada after earning second-team all-conference honors at the College of Southern Idaho last season. Babbitt was named a McDonald's All-American honors at Reno's Galena High School last season, while Giles comes to Nevada from Kimball High School in Dallas, Texas, where he was named the offensive MVP of his district and a second-team all-area selection by the Dallas Morning News. Hunt earned all-league honors at Charis Prep School in Goldsboro, N.C., after averaging a double-double, while Phillips graduated from Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy where he averaged a double-double as a senior.
NEVADA TOP WAC TEAM OVER LAST FIVE YEARS
Over the last five seasons dating back to 2003-04, Nevada has turned in a 131-43 record, the best record of any WAC team during that time (.753 winning percentage). In conference games, Nevada has won 68 games, the most in that same time period.
PACK PICKED TO WIN WAC BY COACHES AND MEDIA
Nevada has been picked to win the Western Athletic Conference in 2008-09 by the league’s coaches and media, while sophomore guard Armon Johnson, freshman forward Luke Babbitt and junior guard Brandon Fields garnered individual recognition.
The Wolf Pack received seven first-place votes and 63 points from the coaches, while in the media poll, Nevada received 255 points and 20 first-place votes.
Johnson was named the WAC Preseason Player of the Year by the league’s nine coaches, while Babbitt was the media’s pick for Preseason Newcomer of the Year. Johnson earned first-team preseason honors from both the media and the coaches, while Babbitt and Fields were second-team selections by the coaches.
ON THE ROAD
Nevada has won 29 of its last 46 games away from the friendly confines of Lawlor Events Center, including 24 road wins and five neutral-site victories (dating back to midway through the 2005-06 season). In 2006-07, the team turned in a 14-4 record away from home, including a 10-2 road mark and a 4-2 record in neutral-site games. The Wolf Pack has won 12 of its last 23 regular-season road contests and 23 of its last 35 and turned in a 7-9 road mark last season (2-2 this year). In 2006-07, the team saw an 11-game regular-season road winning streak snapped with a Jan. 20, 2007 loss at New Mexico State. Prior to that, the team had not dropped a road contest since falling at Fresno State on Jan. 18, 2006.
In the last four-plus seasons since the start of the 2004-05 campaign, the Wolf Pack has tallied a 40-18 record in road contests (.690 winning percentage). That includes a 26-8 record in WAC road games (.765).
FIVE-TIME WAC CHAMPIONS
With a 12-4 mark in conference action, Nevada finished in a tie for first in the WAC in 2007-08, capturing a share of its fifth consecutive WAC regular-season championship. Nevada had captured sole possession of the WAC regular-season crown in each of the three previous seasons (2005, 06, 07) and shared the title with UTEP in 2004. In 2007, the Wolf Pack finished with a 14-2 record in conference play, while the team was 13-3 in 2006. Nevada won the regular-season crown with a WAC-record 16-2 conference mark in 2005, while in 2004, Nevada tied for first with a 13-5 record in WAC play.
NEVADA NOTCHES FIFTH STRAIGHT 20-WIN SEASON
With its March 8, 2008 regular-season finale victory at Fresno State last year, Nevada notched its fifth consecutive season with at least 20 wins. It also marked the 10th 20-win season in school history and the fourth for Mark Fox, who is the only coach in school history to lead more than one team to at least 20 victories. In each of the previous four years, Nevada had won at least 25 games (25-9 in 2003-04, 25-7 in 2004-05, 27-6 in 2005-06 and a school-record 29-5 in 2006-07).
Nevada has also turned in a school-record seven consecutive winning seasons dating back to the 2001-02 campaign (three under former Pack head coach Trent Johnson and four under Fox). The previous long stretch was six from 1986-87 to 1991-92.
FOX RETURNS FOR FIFTH SEASON
Nevada head coach Mark Fox holds a 106-34 career record in four-plus seasons at the helm of the Wolf Pack program (.757 winning percentage) and is already fourth in all-time wins at Nevada. He is the first coach in school history to lead his squad to four consecutive 20-win seasons and three NCAA Tournament appearances.
Nevada’s March 1, 2008 victory over Louisiana Tech gave Fox the 100th win of his career. He tied for 21st on the NCAA's list of fastest coaches to reach 100 wins (among coaches with at least half of their seasons at the Division I level). Duke's Vic Bubas also took 128 wins to reach the milestone, doing it in his fifth season (1964). Fox also became the fastest coach in school history to reach the 100-win plateau. It took Jake Lawlor, the winningest coach in school history, seven seasons (10th game into that season) and 168 games to hit that milestone, while Sonny Allen reached the mark in the first game of his seventh season (100 wins in 174 games). Nevada has seen three of its previous head coaches notch at least 100 wins, including Lawlor (201-159 career record), Allen (114-89) and Jack Spencer (123-199).
Fox’s 81 wins after his first three seasons were tied with Gonzaga's Mark Few for the most victories in Division I history by a coach through three seasons (81-18 record in his first three seasons). Fox was named the Don Haskins Coach of the Year in each of his first three seasons as Nevada’s head coach to become the first coach in WAC history to earn the honor in three consecutive years. He was also one of 15 finalists for the 2007 Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year Award and was named the 2007 National Association of Basketball Coaches District 13 Coach of the Year.
WAC TOURNAMENT RETURNS TO RENO IN 2009 AND 2010
The University of Nevada has been selected to host the 2009 and 2010 Western Athletic Conference Basketball Tournaments.
The university and the Reno Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority will play host to the tournaments at the 11,536-seat Lawlor Events Center. The 2009 tournament will be played March 10-14, and the 2010 tournament will run from March 9-13.
That will mark the third and fourth times that Nevada will serve as host to the WAC’s basketball tournaments with the event being held in Reno in 2005 and 2006. As a member of the Big West Conference, Nevada also served as the host of the conference tournament five years from 1996-2000.
After Sunday’s game with Southern Illinois, Nevada wraps up its four-game homestand with Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Wednesday, Dec. 17. The Wolf Pack will then travel to California on Saturday, Dec. 20 before returning home for three more home games to end its stretch of seven of eight contests at Lawlor Events Center.