RENO - What they lacked in size, they made up with speed and free throws.
Despite being outrebounded by 18, the Nevada women's basketball team forced 33 turnovers, 13 coming from steals, in its 69-59 win over Hawai'i Thursday night before 438 fans at Lawlor Events Center.
"That was one of our goals at halftime. That's an indicator of who's more aggressive," Nevada coach Kim Gervasoni said of her team hitting 20 of 25 from the charity strip, 14 more made than Hawai'i. "Hawai'i's known for being big and very physical."
Traci Graham led the Wolf Pack (2-1 WAC, 8-8 overall) with 20 points, including four 3-pointers, and passed Jessica Larsen for sixth all-time in 3-pointers. Brandi Fitzgerald scored 13 points and had five steals and Dellena Criner added 12 points.
"We played well as a team tonight. It was definitely a team win," Graham said. "We had a few spurts where we didn't pressure much. We came together as a team and got stops when we needed to."
The senior point guard was referring to Nevada's runs, first when the Wolf Pack opened the game with 11 unanswered points and saw Hawai'i take the lead, 20-19, after going on its own 14-0 run with 7:12 left in the first half.
"We didn't panic at all and it paid off for us," Graham said. "That's one of our goals is to be the defensive aggressor."
Fitzgerald agreed with the 2003 McQueen High grad and added that the game boils down to the free throw line.
"We just had to get stops. Who wins the game is going to be based on the free throws and who gets to the free throw line," Fitzgerald said.
Tanya Smith, who checks in at 6-foot-3, powered a game-high 25 points and 16 rebounds for the Rainbow Wahine (0-3 WAC, 6-9). Pam Tambini, a 5-10 forward, scored 14 points and Brittany Grice (6-4) picked up six rebounds.
Gervasoni said she was pleased with the team's defense against Hawai'i's post players.
"I'm proud of them. Our defense is a catalyst to our offense sometimes," Gervasoni added. "They never panicked and they kept their composure."
Gervasoni pointed out that she wanted the team to block out Hawai'i on the boards but was pleased with the 33 Rainbow Wahine turnovers.
"I did say 'block out' on the board was important," she added. "I didn't make that a focus that much. We forced 33 turnovers and that was awesome."
Gervasoni and Graham emphasized that Nevada's tough non-conference schedule is paying dividends for it in the WAC season.
"Our non-conference schedule helped prepare us for conference," Gervasoni said.
The Wolf Pack played Colorado, Wyoming, Auburn and Washington in the last two months, losing to all four by an average of 14 points.
"My freshman year we wouldn't have been able to handle Auburn," Graham said, whose team lost to Auburn 84-75 last month. "It's definitely going to help us with the rest of the conference."
Nevada hosts San Jose State on Saturday at 2 p.m. before traveling to Louisiana Tech on Jan. 18.
"We have to focus on San Jose now and take it one day at a time," Gervasoni said.