RENO - When Nevada filed off the court following its season-ending loss to 17th-ranked Louisiana Tech, it's fans treated the team to a standing ovation.
It was well deserved.
Fifth-seeded Nevada punched and counter-punched with one of the best programs in NCAA history for 30 minutes before falling 69-60 to the top-seeded Lady Techsters in the semifinals of the Western Athletic Conference women's tournament Friday afternoon at Lawlor Events Center.
The win sends Tech (25-4) into today's final (12 noon) against seventh-seeded New Mexico State (10-19). The women's final will be shown on College Sports TV. Nevada ends the season with a 13-17 record, its best season under third-year coach Kim Gervasoni.
"The team fought hard," Nevada coach Kim Gervasoni said. "We didn't open the game with the intensity we needed. We had our chances. We fought for 40 minutes and I'm proud of the team for that.
"We fought back and had our chances. We missed a couple of layups; a couple of easy shots."
Gervasoni was referring to the final nine minutes of the game when the Lady Techsters started to distance themselves from Nevada.
Leading 48-46 with 9:29 left, Shan Moore (19 points) hit a jump shot, and after Brandi Fitzgerald (14 points) misfired, Amber Metoyer dropped in a lean-in from the key. Tasha Williams, the WAC Preseason Player of the Year, dropped in a free throw for a 53-46 lead. A free throw by Fitzgerald and a layup by Salaia Salavea made it 53-49 with 6:12 remaining.
The Techsters scored 10 of the next 12 points to make it a 12-point game with 2 1/2 minutes left. Aarica Ray-Boyd started the surge with a jump shot from the left side and Williams connected again. Traci Graham trimmed the lead to 57-51 with 3:54 left, but a free throw by Quantae Thomas, a layup by Moore and a three-point play by Moore ended any hopes of a Pack comeback.
"I do want the ball in my hands," Williams admitted. "Sometimes I'm fatigued and my teammates do as good a job as I would."
The lack of intensity Gervasoni was referring to enabled the Lady Techsters to build an early 15-6 lead seven minutes into the game. Boyd had five of her seven in that span.
Nevada helped the Techsters by turning the ball over without a shot four times in a six-possession span.
"The first 8 to 10 minutes we played sloppy," Gervasoni said. "We were just not on the same page offensively."
Nevada went on a 10-2 run, slicing the lead to 19-18 as freshman Dellena Criner, who scored 12 of her 15 in the first half, scored four in that stretch. Jessica Preslar, Traci Graham and Fitzgerald added two each.
The teams traded baskets the rest of the half, as the Lady Techsters grabbed a 34-32 lead. Tech had nobody in double figures, but eight different players scored.
The game was tied at 34, 36 and 38 in the second half. One noticeable thing was that the Lady Techsters did a better job of defending Criner, who scored just three points in the second half.
"We went over the top of the ball screens," Tech coach Chris Long said when asked how his team bottled up Criner in the final 20 minutes.
"They keyed on her," Gervasoni said. "They stepped up defensively on her. She wasn't pushing the ball as much as I would have liked. I think she ran out of gas."
Nevada pulled to 44-42 with 12:08 left on a basket by Kate Saltmarsh and a bucket by Graham from the left side. Nevada had a chance to tie the game at 48 moments later, but Fitzgerald missed a 3-pointer. Cherlanda Franklin (8 points) made it 48-46, setting the stage for the final 9 1/2 minutes when the Lady Techsters pulled away.
"Give Nevada credit, they fought hard," Long said. "They fought hard. They have improved a great deal over the season."
"We knew coming in they would give us a tough game," Shan Moore said. "From the beginning of the game, they really wanted it."
That's true but the experience of playing in pressure-packed games belongs to the Lady Techsters, and it showed.
"Louisiana Tech's experience showed down the stretch," Gervasoni said. "They kept their composure. They didn't let anything show in their faces.
"Our team learned to be prepared for runs by good teams; not letting a team go on a 4-0 run or a 6-0 run. That's good defense. You have to get stops."
Unfortunately, Nevada didn't get enough of them down the stretch.