Wolf Pack jockeys to make late push

UNR’s basketball team got through five games in 10 days with only one loss, and that has put the Wolf Pack back in the race for first place in the Western Athletic Conference.

The only team to beat UNR in that span was WAC-leading Boise State, which beat the Wolf Pack 77-68 at Boise, Idaho, on Thursday. The Wolf Pack trails the Broncos by one game.

“Our goal was to win all five,” coach Mark Fox said Monday on the WAC coaches’ teleconference. “But it was more difficult than I imagined it would be. I even feel fatigued, and I didn’t even play.”

With four games left in the regular season, UNR (17-9, 9-4) is revving up for the final push, which starts Saturday with a nonconference game at Southern Illinois as part of ESPN’s “BracketBusters.” UNR resumes WAC play at home against New Mexico State on Feb. 28 and Louisiana Tech on March 1 before finishing at Fresno State on March 8.

Momentum is what coach Fox is seeking. He wants his team playing confidently and well when the WAC Tournament begins March 11 at Las Cruces, N.M.

KEMP STARRING — Fatigue doesn’t seem to be an issue for guard Marcelus Kemp, who was named WAC Player of the Week on Monday. The 6-foot-5-inch senior scored 32 points to help UNR rally to beat Idaho 85-72 on Saturday.

“Marcelus has been a really consistent player for us the last three seasons,” Fox said. “Early on this year, he was trying to do too much. But as our young guys got better, Marcelus began to defer more to them, and it has made us a better team.”

Kemp, averaging 20.4 points and 5.1 rebounds, is playing the best ball of his career and has improved his stock for June’s NBA Draft. He is considered by several NBA scouts to be a mid- to late-second-round pick; a couple of mock drafts have Kemp in the mid-to-late 40s as a second-round selection.

“Marcelus makes the guys around him better,” Fox said. “His defense has been better and he’s always rebounded the ball. But all around, he’s playing at a very high level.”

BRACKETBUSTER GAME — Saturday’s game at Southern Illinois tips off at 1:30 p.m. and can be seen locally on ESPNU (Cable 320).

The Salukis lead the series 2-0, but the teams last played in 1965 when Southern Illinois won, 99-45.

INJURIES — Matt LaGrone’s sore back is improving and Fox said he expects the 6-8 sophomore forward to play Saturday after sitting against Idaho.

Fox said Richie Phillips’ stress fracture in his left leg has not healed properly and the 6-7 sophomore forward has been shut down for the rest of the season.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or (702) 387-2913.

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