RENO - For the first time since the 1999-2000 season, Nevada finally won a post-season game.
The Pack (8-21) scored 35 points in the last 14-plus minutes of the game, including five free throws and a basket by Jessica Preslar in the final 1:11, to slip past Hawai'i 65-61 Tuesday afternoon in the opening round of the WAC Tournament at Lawlor Events Center.
The last time Nevada won in post-season was when it beat Cal-Poly 89-64 in the 2000 Big West Tournament, also at Lawlor Events Center.
Their reward? A chance to play second-seeded Rice (21-8) tonight at 8:30 in the quarterfinals. Hawai'i, which played without starter Jade Abele, ends the season at 11-15.
"I'm very proud of the girls," Nevada coach Kim Gervasoni said. "We came out and fought for 40 minutes. They just believed they could do it. I talked in the pregame about what we've been through losing Mike (Gervasoni, assistant coach). I put it in perspective and they responded. We're tougher than most teams in the country."
It has been a season of strife for the Pack. Nevada lost point guard Jocelyn Mancebo to a brain tumor, and then assistant coach Mike Gervasoni, Kim's husband, was killed in an auto accident. Also, one of Nevada's top recruits, Jourdan Willard, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and was lost for the season.
Hawai'i coach Jim Bolla teared up briefly during the post-game press conference.
"Nevada was the better team tonight," he said. "They played better than us. You have to give them credit. They have gone through a lot this season.
"I was really proud of our kids, especially with Jade out. Our kids could have given up, but they didn't. We cut into their lead, but just couldn't execute late in the game. We can't continue to play against eight people."
Trailing 63-61, Hawai'i had a chance to win or tie in the last few seconds of the game, but Janevia lost control of her dribble, and then her jump shot bounced off the rim.
Bolla said the last shot was supposed to go to Amy Sanders (21 points, 12 rebounds), and that Taylor was the second option. The play is designed for Sanders to get a two or three; whatever is available.
The win avenges two regular-season losses to Hawai'i.
"It feels pretty good," freshman Meghan McGuire (16 points) said. "I don't think a lot of people expected us to win this game."
The Pack used a 46.7 shooting percentage in the second half plus a pressure defense to wipe out a 26-21 halftime deficit. Hawai'i was hurt by foul trouble throughout the second half, as center Brittany Grice and forward-guard Sanders got in foul trouble.
McGuire scored 14 of her 16 in the second half, Amber Young tallied 10 of her 12 and Preslar had 10 of her 14.
"Meghan McGuire hit some huge shots and Jessica went by people and got some huge lay-ups," Gervasoni said. "I'm telling her to back it out, back it out, and she went by three people. When she gets in that mindset, she's incredible."
Nevada outscored the Rainbow Wahine 17-5 to open the second half to take a 50-44 lead, and the aforementioned trio were right in the thick of things.
Young contributed a basket and two free throws, McGuire added a three-pointer, two free throws and a lay-up, and Preslar beat the Hawai'i defense with two great moves to the basket.
Nevada extended the lead to 58-49, but Hawai'i roared back with threes by Sanders and Taylor and a putback by Sanders, who finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds.
Alofa Toiaivac (13 points, 8 rebounds) scored to cut the lead to 60-59 with 54.7 left. After a reverse lay-up by Preslar, Pam Tambini's two free throws made it 62-61 with 15 seconds left. Young was fouled, and connected on one of two shots to make it 63-61.
That set the stage for Taylor's shot, and a much-needed win for Nevada.