Aggie Men Host Nevada

Written by: Jason Groves/Sun-News Reporter

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - The faces may have changed and the record has dropped, but it's always a big game when Nevada comes to Las Cruces.

The Wolf Pack enter tonight's game against New Mexico State 2-2 in Western Athletic Conference and boasting the league's top scorer in senior guard Marcelus Kemp. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. at the Pan American Center. The game can be heard on KGRT 103.9-FM and in Spanish on 98.7 FM. AggieVision will replay the game in Las Cruces at 10 p.m. tonight.

"The competition between the two is definitely going to be peaked again," Aggies head coach Marvin Menzies said. "I think both of us needing a win right now would give it a little extra flavor."

Menzies faces Nevada head coach Mark Fox and the Wolf Pack for the first time. The Aggies are 10-10 and 4-1 in the WAC. Nevada is coming off a 15-point home loss to Boise State on Saturday but Nevada is still the program that has won four straight regular season WAC championships and four of the last five games against the Aggies.

"We have to protect the house and we have to play well here at home," Menzies said. "If you do that, hopefully your fans and your sixth-man effect will carry you through."

Kemp is second in the league in scoring at 19.5 points per game and has taken more of a leadership role as the young Wolf Pack roster finds their way after losing the likes of center Nick Fazekas and point guard Ramon Sessions to the NBA Draft.

"He's a big time player and he really plays within himself," said Menzies of the 6-foot-5 Kemp. "He is the one that takes the shot when they need a shot. He is playing with a younger team around him which isn't always the best thing for a senior but I think he is doing a pretty good job of leading them right now."

Menzies and Fox are in a similar situation replacing key players from a year ago, particularly at the point guard slot. The Aggies have yet to determine a true point guard this year.

Nevada (10-7, 2-2) has started a pair of underclassmen in the back court for much of the season. Freshman Armon Johnson is third on the team with 12.2 points per game and leads the Wolf Pack with three assists per game. Sophomore Brandon Fields scores just under 12 points per game. Junior guard Lyndale Burleson comes off the bench, but the Wolf Pack has received just two total points from their bench in the last two games.

"Losing your point guard is a major impact," Menzies said. "It's tough anytime you lose a point guard who knows everything that you wanted to do and understands your system through and through and then have to reinvent that person the following year, which is what Coach Fox has had to do, as well as I.

"He (Fox) seems to be getting a feel and more familiar with what they are trying to do offensively. I think his guards are starting to get a feel for that."

Unlike most teams in the WAC, the Wolf Pack also has comparable size to the Aggies. The Nevada roster lists two 7-footers in sophomore JaVale McGee and senior David Ellis.

"They will play together sometimes, especially when they play zone," Menzies said. "We have to be prepared and take smart shots because they are shot blockers."

McGee starts for the Wolf Pack and leads the WAC with 3.12 blocks per game and is second on the team in scoring at 12.7 per game.

"I like playing against bigger guys," NMSU senior center Hatila Passos said.

Passos returned to the lineup after a six-game suspension in the Aggies' 63-54 victory over Lousiana Tech on Saturday. Passos had 10 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench.

"It was great to be back and help the team," Passos said. "I was kind of disappointed with myself, but now I'm happy to be back."

Passos and senior center Martin Iti could play at the same time tonight, but both need to play well if the Aggies want to prove the tide is turning in the WAC.

"It's going to be hard," Passos said. "I think they play their two big men at the same time so me and Martin are going to have to do a good job."

Jason Groves can be reached at jgroves@lcsun-news.com