RENO - Utah State coach Raegan Pebley knows all about Nevada guard Brandi Fitzgerald.
Pebley recruited Fitzgerald hard in an effort to lure her to the Utah State campus. She even made a home visit to no avail.
And on Saturday, she had to helplessly watch Fitzgerald score five of her game-high 17 points in the final 3 minutes 42 seconds to launch a game-ending 16-4 run to spark Nevada to a 64-54 victory over Utah State Saturday at Lawlor Events Center.
The win was Nevada's first after four straight Western Athletic Conference setbacks. Nevada is now 5-12 overall and 1-4 in conference. The Pack have won two straight games for the first time since late last year when it knocked off Boise State and UTEP at home.
The victory may have come at a steep price. Sabrina Keys went down with a serious injury to her right knee, and had to be carried off the floor with 2:38 remaining and Nevada clinging to a 56-52 lead. Initial reports indicate a possible anterior cruciate ligament injury.
Fitzgerald, whose third 3-pointer of the game had given Nevada a 51-50 lead, drained a nice mid-range bank shot with 1:46 left to extend the lead to 58-54. She also got an offensive rebound on Nevada's next possession, which the Pack turned into two free throws by Dellena Criner to make it 60-54 with 52.4.
"She's a great player," Pebley said of the 5-foot-10 guard. "I wanted her for Utah State. She's young, and she'll be a great talent in the WAC."
Pebley won't get any argument from Nevada coach Kim Gervasoni.
"She chose Nevada over a lot of schools because she wanted to make a difference," Gervasoni said. "She's done everything she promised she would.
"Brandi's 3s were huge. The bottom of their zone had to come out and then we got more inside game going."
Nevada, thanks to Kate Saltmarsh, Fitzgerald, Nicole Hayman and Keys, built an early 20-9 lead in the first 8:45 of the game.
However, the Pack went cold from the floor, hitting just 4 of their next 16, which enabled Utah State to slice the lead to 32-27 at halftime. Jessica Freeman had all six of her points in that span to lead the Aggies.
"I thought we were getting good shots," Gervasoni said. "They were giving us the outside shot and clogging the middle. We had to beat them from the outside."
Baskets by Saltmarsh (9 points), Cherlanda Franklin and Fitzgerald boosted the lead back up to nine, 38-29, with 16:24 left in the game. A 10-5 run by the Aggies sliced the lead to 42-39, and one had to wonder if the Pack would fade away as they so often have in past years.
Franklin's free throw made it 43-39 with 9:04 left, but Utah State went on an 11-5 binge thanks to five points off the bench by Jenny Gross and a key putback by Camille Brox, which snapped a 48-all tie.
That's when Fitzgerald & Co. stepped up. Fitzgerald and Traci Graham hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give Nevada a 54-50 lead. Brox scored with 2:38 left to make it 54-52. It stayed a two-point game until Fitzgerald scored with 1:46 left to make it 58-54.
"Great players make big plays," Gervasoni said. "I kept telling Traci to shoot more; to keep taking the shot. She knocked down a big three when we needed it."
Graham, who finished with just five points, said the team was confident it could hold off the Aggies down the stretch.
"Nobody ever doubted it," Graham said. "We really didn't think we were going to lose it. Everybody felt comfortable."
For the Aggies, it was another disappointing finish. Utah State fell into last place in the conference with an 0-5 record in the WAC and 1-14 overall.
"It was a really tough finish," Pebley said. "We've had a lot of WAC games end like that. Give credit to Kim's players, they played physical and hard."
That's the way Gervasoni would love to see her team play each game, and that's what it will take to build on this streak and make a move into the upper echelon of the WAC.
"We have to take it one game at a time," said Gervasoni, whose team hosts Boise State Thursday night at 7 p.m.
Notes: Nevada shot 37.7 from the field, draining 23 of 61 attempts. Utah State shot a dismal 29.6 from the field ... Gervasoni praised the defensive work of Graham and Criner, who held Taylor Richards to 10 points and just 3-for-14 from the floor ... Volleyball star Salaia Salave'a is starting to round into shape. She contributed six points and two rebounds in an effective nine-minute stint ... Utah State outrebounded Nevada 43-37. The Aggies pulled in 16 offensive rebounds... Meghan McGuire missed her third straight game with an ankle injury.