RENO - Nevada coach Kim Gervasoni asked her team to play hard and be aggressive on offense, and they met both of those goals.
What the Wolf Pack didn't do was play good defense which has been the team's achilles heel all season, and it led to a 77-68 loss to Tulsa in a Western Athletic Conference women's basketball game Thursday night at Lawlor Events Center.
The loss dropped Nevada, which played without guard Talisha Anderson, to 5-12 overall and 1-6 in conference play. Tulsa improved to 12-4 overall and 4-2 in conference.
"A D-minus," said Gervasoni when asked to grade her team's defense this season. "We're giving up too many points. We've got to hold it around 60 points. We gave up 77 tonight, and we would have needed 78 to win. How many times have we done that?"
Nevada has managed to hit the 70-point mark three times this season and won twice. The Wolf Pack beat Cal-State Fullerton 71-56 and knocked off San Diego State 74-55. Santa Clara knocked off Nevada 78-71.
Despite Gervasoni's displeasure with the defensive effort, had it not been for a 2 1/2 minute meltdown at the start of the second half, it might have been a completely different story.
Nevada, thanks to 12 first-half points by Meghan McGuire and 11 by Traci Graham grabbed a 38-37 halftime lead, but that slipped quickly away.
Tulsa went on a 9-2 run in the first 2 minutes 26 seconds of the second half to take a 46-40 lead, and Nevada would only get as close as three points the rest of the way.
Kara Pongonis (10 points) hit a trey, Becky Heidotten (12 points) worked herself inside for a layup and Tandem Mays (14 points) drove the lane for a bucket after a Nevada turnover. Graham (season-high 16 points) stopped the onslaught with a bucket, but Jillian Robbins scored over Jessica Preslar to complete the surge.
Robbins, who is Tulsa's top scorer, rebounder and shot blocker, was limited to five first-half minutes because she picked up three fouls. She picked up her fourth going after a loose ball with 15:48 left in the game and finished with just six points, 10 below her average.
You would think Nevada would have a huge advantage. Wrong.
Just like the first half when Meghan Moody stepped up with Robbins on the bench and tossed in 16 of her 19 points to keep the game close, the Golden Hurricane was able to get help. This time it came from Sarah Newby, Mays and Heidotten. Newby scored all 10 of her points in the second half, and Heidotten added eight and Mays seven.
Using a double-stack offense at the free-throw line, the Golden Hurricane continually diced up Nevada's defense and bolted to a 56-49 lead with 12:36 left. Heidotten rolled down off screens and scored three baskets in a two-minute span and Mays kept the ball and drove the lane for a basket.
"We weren't communicating," McGuire said. "We were supposed to be switching."
"They ran the same play in the second half, and we had a hard time shutting it down," Gervasoni said. "It shouldn't take 10 possessions before we figure it out. They have balance. They are a well-coached team."
Tulsa coach Kathy McConnell-Miller said the double-stack set is something they have run just once before this season, and it's usually with Newby in the game. She also said it's not something they run with Robbins in the lineup.
"Definitely her line was impressive," McConnell-Miller said, referring to Heidotten's 12 points, four assists and five rebounds. "Basically I play two centers (Robbins and Heidotten). When Jillian isn't in there, Becky can play her natural position.
"We typically play better in the second half. I can't explain it. I don't have an answer. It's comforting to know we score a lot more in the second half."
Threes by Newby and Moody gave Tulsa a 69-60 lead with 4:31 left. Nevada didn't quit, however. April Bankston (10 points, 8 rebounds) scored on a layup and then drained two free throws 19 seconds later, slicing the lead to 69-64 with 3:51 remaining.
That's when the Wolf Pack let some opportunities slip away. Tulsa turned the ball over, but Robbins came up with a big steal on the inbounds pass. After a Tulsa miss, Nevada's Andrea Sitton misfired. Tulsa turned the ball over again, but Graham had her shot blocked at the other end.
That sequence extinguished Nevada's rally for good. Tulsa scored eight of the next 10 points, five by Pongonis, to put the game away.
"We played much better," Graham said. "We did start the second half slow, but we didn't let it become a big deficit (like in the past)."
Graham played perhaps her best game. Besides the season-high 16 points, she also grabbed six rebounds and had two steals. She played all but one minute of the game. McGuire has been on a roll with 15, 15 and 21 in her last three games. Both gave assistant coach Amanda Levens a lot of the credit.
"I've been coming out early and working on my shooting," Graham said. "My teammates have confidence in me, and I'm feeding off that confidence."
McGuire also said she is feeling more confident when she gets the ball in her hands.
That's a good sign for the Wolf Pack, who are in the long, tedious process of building a program, and Graham, a sophomore, and McGuire, a freshman, figure prominently in those plans.
Notes: Anderson also will not play Saturday, according to Gervasoni. The coach said that Anderson's cheek started to swell up and she's hooked up to an IV and taking antibiotics. That treatment is expected to last two days, and if the swelling doesn't go down, Gervasoni said surgery is a possibility... Because of the fog on Wednesday night, Tulsa didn't arrive in Reno until late morning. It had to spend the night in Dallas when its connecting flight was cancelled... Nevada hosts Rice Saturday at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Contact Darrell Moody at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1281.