INDIANAPOLIS -- He was a dud in Nevada's first-round win against Texas, but on Saturday we got to see the real Nick Fazekas. He set screens and rolled to the rim for dunks. He flared outside, his defender too slow to follow, for jumpers. He spun to the rim with shocking footwork for such a big guy, and he blocked shots as the help defender.
|Nick Fazekas, the WAC player of the year, shoots 8 for 35 in two NCAA Tournament games. (Getty Images)|
Wait. Sorry. That wasn't Nick Fazekas.
That was Illinois' James Augustine.
Oh, well. At least someone was worth the hype. It sure wasn't Fazekas, Nevada's 6-foot-11 sophomore who is stupidly -- stupidly, Nick, stupidly -- contemplating the 2005 NBA Draft. Nick, come watch the draft at my house. After neither of us hears our name called, we'll go out for dinner. An all-you-can-eat buffet, preferably. Eat something already.
Augustine made a meal of Fazekas in Illinois' 71-59 romp Saturday, outplaying the WAC player of the year so thoroughly that, for the second consecutive game, Fazekas was benched. This time it happened late in the first half, when Augustine had 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting. Fazekas' halftime numbers: four points, 2-for-11 shooting.
Nevada's two-game NCAA Tournament showed two things. One, the WAC is devoid of stars. Must be, if Fazekas was its best player. And two, first-year Wolf Pack coach Mark Fox is a stud. Nevada matched its victory total of a year ago (25) with half the talent, and beat Texas -- and competed with Illinois -- despite getting nothing from its best player.
Fox is the real thing. Fazekas? Not sure. The most startling thing about him at Indianapolis was his resemblance to Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, though the comparison only goes so far. Manning, for starters, plays well in the RCA Dome.
Augustine finished with 23 points. Fazekas had 11, one more than he had against Texas. Fazekas was said to be unique, and he was -- a conference player of the year and a liability.
Why Fazekas struggled at Indianapolis is no big mystery. In the WAC, playing teams like Fresno State, Boise State, SMU and Tulsa, Fazekas never ran into players as big and quick as he is. In the NCAA Tournament, he ran into three in two games. Texas had two of them, Brad Buckman and Jason Klotz. Illinois had Augustine.
One time Fazekas curled off a baseline screen and took the open 3-pointer from the elbow. He thought it would be open, anyway. It was open against Hawaii and Louisiana Tech. Augustine blocked it.
Having to work this hard for open shots, and still not finding them, wore Fazekas down physically and mentally. He spent most of the game in a state of exhaustion, his face pink, his chest heaving, and by the second half was only playing in two- or three-minute bursts. When he was taken out after one dismal stretch late in the first half, Fazekas ripped off the mask protecting his broken nose and flung it under his chair.
Any NBA scouts in attendance Saturday would have identified Augustine as the best big man on the court. Nevada's Kevinn Pinkney was second. Illinois' Jack Ingram was third. Fazekas was next, but only because Illinois' Nick Smith barely played.