Nevada women beat Hawaii

RENO - Brandi Fitzgerald plopped down in her seat in the interview room, and remarked that she hadn't been there in a while.

If Fitzgerald plays anywhere close to how she played Saturday night, she might be a permanent guest to the post-game pow-wow.

Fitzgerald scored 21 points and pulled down 11 rebounds to spark Nevada to a 75-65 win over Hawaii in a Western Athletic Conference women's basketball game before 810 fans at Lawlor Events Center.

Nevada improved to 11-4 overall and 2-0 in conference. Hawaii fell to 6-9 and 0-2, respectively.

The double-double was the first of the season for Fitzgerald and second in her career. After the contest, the 5-foot-10 junior revealed that she is playing with cartilage damage in her right knee suffered in the loss to Utah Valley State.

"I've been working a lot on going to the basket and creating shots," Fitzgerald said. "I felt like I wasn't going to stop. I tried to draw some fouls and get to the line.

"I've been cautious about my knee. This game it wasn't in my head. I'm going to keep playing until I can't play on it anymore. I'll have surgery after the season."

Nevada coach Kim Gervasoni said that Fitzgerald had injured her other knee previously and had off-season knee surgery. Gervasoni said that doctors are viewing that injury differently than in the past where they would normally schedule surgery immediately.

Fitzgerald was much more of a scorer in high school, averaging 17 and 18 her last two seasons at Canyon Springs in Moreno Valley, Calif., but had dipped to 10.9 and 8.4 at Nevada. This obviously is the type of game Gervasoni envisioned when she recruited Fitzgerald.

"We need her scoring 10 to 15 a game and pulling down six or eight rebounds a game consistently," Gervasoni said. "She is a great 1-on-1 player. She is great at creating and she can take people off the dribble and pull-up."

Fitzgerald was at her best when it counted the most against the Rainbow Wahine.

Hawaii pulled to within 35-33 with 18:33 left in the game, but Nevada answered back with an 23-8 run over the next eight-plus minutes to grab a 58-41 lead, which it never lost.

Fitzgerald banked in a 3-pointer from the left wing to start the surge and hit a lean-in bank shot 73 seconds later for a 40-35 lead. A basket and free throw by Dellena Criner (19 points), a putback by Shavon Moore, a driving layup by Jennifer Gross and another bucket by Fitzgerald made it 49-35.

Tanya Smith (14 points, 17 rebounds) stopped the bleeding momentarily with a 3-footer in heavy traffic, but Nevada scored eight of the next 12 points. Fitzgerald capped the surge with another 3-pointer and a lay-up.

In that span, Hawaii turned the ball over seven times and went 1-for-7 from the floor.

"Aggressiveness (was the key)," Gervasoni said of Nevada's second-half surge. "We were able to push the ball up the floor. Dellena came back in after I had a talk with her, and that made a difference."

Hawaii coach Jim Bolla felt it was turnovers, something which plagued his team on this road trip. Against Utah State, Hawaii turned the ball over 33 times leading to 28 points. Against Nevada, 24 miscues led to 27 points.

"Too many turnovers," Bolla said. "Look at the shots (attempted). You turn it over, and that's one less shot you get up. At one time in the second half, it was 2-to-1. We have to take care of the ball a little bit better.

"They play good defense. We were right where we wanted to be. They came down, missed a shot, got the rebound and made a 3 (Fitzgerald)."

Some of Hawaii's mistakes can be attributed to some poor decision making. Others came because of Nevada's pressure, and the Pack, especially Cherlanda Franklin, did a great job of getting their hands on the ball.

Franklin had a career-high 11 steals, yes that's right, 11, a career-best four blocked shots, six rebounds and two assists to go along with her seven points.

"I've always been a defensive player," Franklin said. "I think that's the reason coach recruited me. I like to be in there and have fun."

Franklin did hit a couple of clutch shots in the second half. Her baseline jump shot stopped a 6-0 Hawaii run and gave Nevada a 60-47 lead with 7:35 left. She capped a 7-0 Nevada run with a shot from the right wing to make it 67-55 with 3:56 left.

Hawaii did close to eight twice in the final 2 1/2 minutes, but a 3-pointer by Mikail Price and four Criner free throws sealed the outcome.

Big surges seemed to be the key for the Pack in the first half, too. Nevada trailed only once in the first 20 minutes and twice enjoyed nine-point leads before going into the intermission with a 35-29 advantage.

Hawaii tied the game at 16 on a 3-pointer by Iwona Zagrobelna with 11:41 left, but Nevada scored nine unanswered points for a 25-16 lead.

Fitzgerald started the surge with two free throws and Sabrina Keys (8 points, 6 rebounds) added a putback 51 seconds later. Hawaii turned the ball over on its next three possessions, and the Pack finally capitalized on the third when Fitzgerald scored on a layup. Franklin capped the barrage with a free throw.

Nevada extended its lead to nine again, 33-24, but a free by Smith, a bank shot by Saundra Cariaga and a layup by Keisha Kanekoa made it 33-29 before Criner drained two free throws to up the lead to six.

Hawaii scored the first two buckets of the second half, but that set the stage for the aforementioned big run by the Pack, which plays at Idaho on Thursday and at Boise State next Saturday.

"It feels nice (to be undefeated after the first week)," Franklin said. "We still have a long road ahead of us."

Notes: Smith now has 23 career double-doubles, though the Pack made her work a lot harder than normal for her points ... Nevada has held 13 of its 15 opponents under 70 points. The Pack was leading the WAC in scoring defense at 61.5 per game before Saturday's contest ... This is Nevada's first 2-0 start since joining the conference in the 2000-01 season ... Fitzgerald's double-double was the fourth by a Nevada player this season. The other three were by Marianne Lombardi, Franklin and Moore ... Moore suffered an injury to either her right knee or ankle and had to be assisted off the floor. Gervasoni said she will be evaluated today (Sunday).

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