Thursday , Mar , 16 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Wolf Pack and Grizzlies meet in first-round of NCAA Tournament

=== Wolf Pack and Grizzlies meet in first-round of NCAA Tournament ===

(Sports Network) – Moving up a bit in the national rankings after
claiming the Western Athletic Conference Tournament title last week, the
Nevada Wolf Pack now prepare to face off against the Montana Grizzlies in
the first round of the 68th annual NCAA Tournament. As part of the
Minneapolis Region, these two squads will hit the floor at the Huntsman
Center in Salt Lake City. With a record of 3-4 in previous appearances in
the NCAA Tournament, the Pack ran through the likes of Idaho, New Mexico
State and Utah State to take the WAC Tournament title and finish with a
record of 27-5. As for the Grizzlies, they needed to take out only Eastern
Washington and Northern Arizona in the Big Sky Conference Tournament in order
to earn the automatic bid to the Big Dance. The squad was the only one in the
league without double-digit losses, finishing up at an impressive 23-6,
giving them a slightly better seeding than usual at number 12 in 2006.
Montana has made it to the NCAA Tournament a number of times previously,
but there’s been just a single victory in eight chances along the way.

As for fifth-seeded Nevada, it advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2004 with wins over
Michigan State and Gonzaga but took a step backwards a year ago when the
Pack dropped Texas in the first round and then fell to eventual runner-up
Illinois at the RCA Dome. In terms of the all-time series between these two
squads, Montana holds a 21-16 edge over the Pack and took the victory
in the most recent meeting back in 2001 with a 75-68 triumph at home in
Missoula. The winner of this game will face off against the winner of the
Pacific/Boston College contest in the second round on Saturday.

The 23 wins for the Grizzlies this season tied for the second-most in program
history, behind the 27 wins produced in both 1949-50 and 1991-92. One of the
biggest reasons behind the success of Montana again this season is the team’s
senior leader, Kevin Criswell, who has 102 career starts to his credit, more
than twice the number of any one of his teammates. Criswell, who is currently
fifth on the Big Sky’s career list for three-point field goals with 218, is
also fourth on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,642 points. This
season, Criswell actually finished second on the team overall in scoring with
16.5 ppg, but his 18.1 ppg versus Big Sky opponents topped the list for the
Grizz. Andrew Strait, who shot better from the floor (.622) than he did at the
free-throw line (.594), led the team in both scoring and rebounding overall
with averages of 16.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per outing. Virgil Matthews, the
third player to have started all 29 games in 2005-06, chipped in with an even
10 ppg, having shot 47.5 percent from three-point range, but it was his 116
assists that made Montana one of the most well-rounded programs in the nation,
averaging better than 18 dishes per contest.

For the third straight year the Wolf Pack claimed at least a share of the
WAC’s regular-season title and this was also the second time in the last three
years that the squad captured the WAC Tournament crown. For the second
straight year, Nick Fazekas was named the WAC Player of the Year, while his
head coach Mark Fox was named the Coach of the Year for the second straight
time as well. With 27 wins at the moment the Pack is just one win away from
tying the school record set by the team from 1945-46 which was led by Jake
Lawlor, for whom the team’s home court is named. The Pack has turned in three
straight seasons with at least 25 wins and Fazekas has been a huge part of
that success. He led the WAC in scoring with 21.8 ppg and was second on the
glass with 10.3 rpg, shooting 53.3 percent from the floor while trying to
regain his touch from the perimeter where he was just 30.7 percent accurate.
Marcelus Kemp and Mo Charlo both spent a considerable amount of time in the
starting lineup, averaging 14.4 and 10.3 ppg, respectively. Defensively the
team held opponents to only 39.8 percent shooting from the floor, 30 percent
beyond the arc and 63 ppg overall, one of the best marks in the WAC.