Nevada forward Nick Fazekas went up for a shot during the second half of yesterday's win over Utah State.
Nevada sweeps WAC titles
RENO, Nev. » Fifty wins and NCAA Tournament victories over the previous two years certainly inflated expectations for the Nevada Wolf Pack entering this season.
And following a shaky start to the Western Athletic Conference campaign, the Wolf Pack delivered by winning the league's regular-season crown and claiming their second WAC tournament title in three years with a 70-63 overtime win against Utah State last night.
The tournament hosts battled back from a 3-3 start in league play to reel off 14 straight wins, securing the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament before a raucous home crowd of 9,436 at the Lawlor Events Center.
"I'm extremely proud of our players," Nevada coach Mark Fox said after a joyous on-court celebration. "Because they've had expectations that have been extremely high, and that's a lot of pressure to deal with at that age."
Nevada forward Nick Fazekas, the tournament's Most Valuable Player, scored a game-high 23 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to lift the Wolf Pack (27-5) past the Aggies (23-8).
Forward Mo Charlo energized Nevada off the bench with 14 points. Guard Marcelus Kemp added 13 points and hit the game's biggest shot, draining a 3-pointer with 45 seconds left in overtime to help seal the Wolf Pack victory.
Fazekas engaged in a duel of All-WAC forwards with Utah State's Nate Harris, who nearly carried the Aggies to the title with 22 points and nine boards.
While Nevada's place in the NCAA Tournament is secure, Selection Sunday won't be as relaxing for Utah State, which finished second to Nevada in both the regular-season standings and the tournament.
"If we don't get the bid tomorrow then we should pull out of the WAC and go back to the Big West, and I'm dead serious," USU coach Stew Morrill said. "We came to this league for this very reason. We were in a one-bid league and folks said you'd put yourself in a position where there would be more than one bid out there."
The Aggies had a chance at the end of regulation to end its first year in the WAC with a championship. But with the score tied at 55, Jaycee Carroll's 3-pointer was off the mark and a putback attempt by Harris also refused to fall through the rim to send the game into overtime.
Utah State took a 60-59 lead in the extra period on Durrall Peterson's 3-pointer. But two free throws by Kyle Shiloh and Kemp's clutch trey from the top of the key gave Nevada control of a tightly contested game.
The Wolf Pack made 20 of 25 free throws in the game, including six straight in the final 30 seconds to hold off Utah State in the third WAC tournament final to be decided in overtime, the first since Hawaii beat Tulsa in 2001.
"It's a tough thing to do," Fazekas said of sweeping the regular-season and tournament championships. "We had a target on our back all year and we were able to accomplish a lot of things in the regular season and the conference tournament.
"We'll enjoy it today and some of tomorrow and once we get selected it's back to work again."
Fazekas picked up his fourth foul with 5:14 left in regulation and went to the bench in defensive situations the rest of the game.
But Nevada's defense still limited Utah State, the top shooting team in the WAC, to 38 percent shooting after halftime. Carroll, who entered the game averaging 16.5 points per game, was held to four points on 2-for-10 shooting from the floor.
"It's a team and I trust all 12 of those guys in white," Fox said.
Nevada's 11-5 lead 4 minutes into the game was the game's largest margin until the final seconds of overtime as the Wolf Pack and Aggies wouldn't allow each other to break away.
It appeared the Wolf Pack might take control when Fazekas dropped in a short shot and Kemp made a fall-away jumper to put the Pack up 53-48 with 4 minutes left in regulation.
But Harris drained a jumper in the lane and converted a three-point play to pull the Aggies even with 1:25 left. After Fazekas made two free throws, USU answered with a free-throw-line jumper by guard David Pak to tie the game at 55.
The Aggies got the ball back when Kemp was whistled for traveling with 16.4 seconds left. But USU couldn't capitalize on its opportunities in the final seconds of regulation.
The seesaw battle continued in overtime, with Nevada taking the lead for good at 61-60 on Shiloh's free throws. USU's Cass Matheus then missed two free throws with 1:30 left and Kemp's trey gave the Wolf Pack control of the game.
"There were a million things here or there that could have gone our way, but they just didn't," Harris said. "We just came up short."