Nevada's women's basketball team climbed above the .500 mark for the first time since early Dec. by defeating Portland State Thursday night, 65-52, at Lawlor Events Center.
The Wolf Pack improves to 6-5 in its final home game of the year before heading on the road for four road games. Nevada plays at UNLV Saturday night. PSU falls to 3-9 and has lost its last six of seven games.
Nevada's defense played well in not squandering a lead in the second half and breaking a modest two-game losing streak to PSU. The Wolf Pack forced 28 turnovers, which led to 20 points. Until the Pack pulled away from the Vikings, PSU stuck to Nevada like extra strength epoxy.
Both teams combined for 55 turnovers and 40 steals.
"I knew it would be that type of game. I knew there was the potential for a lot of turnovers and a lot of steals," said Nevada head coach Kim Gervasoni.
The Vikings tied the game at 29 after halftime on Brianna Thompson's 5-foot shot. Nevada regained a two-point lead before Nevada guard Traci Graham ignited a sputtering offense when she stole the ball and drove the full length of the court for a layup and a 33-29 lead. PSU then missed a shot on the other end of the floor, but Nevada stormed back on an aggressive drive to the basket from Dellena Criner. She was fouled on a successful layup, and her free throw put Nevada on top, 36-29.
Forward Jessica Preslar said it took the first half for her teammates to regain their focus.
"Coming back from break, we were a little jittery," said Preslar, who scored a game-high 12 points.
Marissa Hammond attributes Nevada's defense for pressuring and trapping PSU as the Pack took control of the game.
"We came out with a good effort, a more uptempo game," she said.
Later, Graham stripped the ball near the basket and made a layup as the Pack began a 24-10 run. Graham and three other players finished the game with six points. The Vikings, however, outscored the Wolf Pack 13-6 during the final 2:10.
Nevada also played better on defense in the second half by outrebounding PSU and forcing the Vikings to take longer shots.
The Wolf Pack penetrated the key and worked the baseline more effectively in the second half. Andrea Sitton, who finished the game with six points, kept the pressure on PSU with her short set and jump shots.
"I would like to commend our post players. They scored a lot of points in the paint (48 points)," Gervasoni said, "I challenged the post players to step up."
Nevada's post players crashed the boards and finished the game with 20 offensive rebounds.
Nevada's biggest lead of the game was 60-39 before PSU staged a minor comeback.
PSU played a tighter defense against Nevada for the first seven minutes of the game, trailing 10-9. The Vikings tied the game at 10 on a free throw from Kerstin Brosterhous with 13:52 left in the half. PSU took a 12-10 lead on Delany Conway's short jumper. She added a pair of free throws two minutes later to extend the Vikings' lead to 14-10.
Neither team looked sharp on offense in the first half with each squad having eight turnovers in the first 10 minutes, and the holiday break may have contributed to that for both teams. This was Nevada's second game in 11 days, and PSU's first game since Dec. 20.
Both teams combined for 29 turnovers in the first 20 minutes, and the Wolf Pack shot 40 percent from the floor compared to PSU's 45 percent.
The Pack finally connected for back-to-back baskets from Marianne Lombardi and Brandi Fitzgerald to tie the game at 14 midway through the first half.
The Wolf Pack later regained the lead, 16-15, on a Brandi Harris jumper.
After Nevada struggled on three unsuccessful trips downcourt, Preslar's layup from the left side gave the Wolf Pack an18-15 lead with 6:22 remaining.
Nevada began to step up the game's tempo by driving down the lane. The Wolf Pack's biggest lead of the first half was four points.
Erin Yankus tied the game at 27 with less than two minutes remaining before intermission.
Nevada then regained the lead 17 seconds later on Sitton's putback.
Portland struggled by missing three attempts under the basket.
The Wolf Pack attempted three shots in the final 45 seconds, but Nevada still took a 29-27 lead into halftime.