CBKB: Wolf Pack women host USC in WNIT | NevadaAppeal.com

CBKB: Wolf Pack women host USC in WNIT

JOE SANTORO
For the Nevada Appeal

RENO – The Nevada Wolf Pack women’s basketball team is all smiles right now.

“This year has been about the enthusiasm,” head coach Jane Albright said. “We’re just excited. Reno, I think they appreciate us now.”

“I’m so excited that I really can’t put it into words,” senior Johnna Ward said.

The Wolf Pack, which will host the USC Trojans at 2 p.m. today at Lawlor Events Center in a second round Women’s National Invitation Tournament game, just wants to extend the greatest season in the program’s history as far as possible.

“We came in this morning (for practice) with so much energy,” Ward said recently. “That’s not like us so early in the morning. We’re all excited.”

The Pack, which won at St. Mary’s, 65-62, on Thursday to open the WNIT to improve to 22-10, has already set a school-record for wins this season. And the win at St. Mary’s was the program’s first in a national postseason tournament.

“We’ve been able to do a lot of things this year that are historic,” Albright said.

Every victory from here on out this year will write a new chapter in the Pack history books.

“The mindset of this team is we want to win,” junior Kayla Williams said. “We’ve already broken a few records this year and we want to break some more.”

“Our main goal is to keep (improving) our resume,” Ward said.

Albright is just happy her team’s season is not over.

“Some years I’m at home watching on my couch,” she said. “This is just an exciting time of year.”

The mood at USC is a bit different. The Trojans, after all, had loftier goals than playing in the WNIT this year.

“This might not be the place we all wanted to be but we’re here,” said Ashley Corral, who had 15 points in USC’s 67-64 victory over UC Santa Barbara on Thursday in the WNIT first round. “So if we’re going to do this, why not do it right?”

The Trojans turned down a WNIT berth a year ago after a 20-12 season. This year, though, head coach Michael Cooper thought his team could benefit from the postseason experience.

“To not get picked for the NCAA tournament, it’s sad, it hurts” said Cooper, who played 12 seasons and won five championships with Magic Johnson as part of the “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s. “But we can use this as a springboard for next year. Last year we opted not to play (in the WNIT) but this will do us good this year.”

Cooper, who coached the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks for eight seasons and won two championships, has had a somewhat disappointing two seasons as Trojans coach, despite a very respectable 39-24 combined record. Both seasons have ended in disappointment, missing out on the NCAA Tournament both times.

It’s easy to understand why the Wolf Pack and Trojans are looking at this tournament from a different perspective. The Trojans, after all, have one of the most storied histories in women’s college basketball. USC won back-to-back national championships in 1983 and 1984 and have featured some of the greatest players in the history of the sport, including Lisa Leslie, Cheryl Miller, Cynthia Cooper, Tina Thompson and Pam McGee, the mother of former Wolf Pack men’s basketball player JaVale McGee.

Cooper, though, is only worried about the present and future.

“We just need postseason play,” said Cooper, explaining USC’s decision to play in this year’s WNIT. “We were 19-12 (after the Pac-10 tournament) and that’s not bad. But it shows that we can’t do things half way. We have to do things all the way.”

The Pack just wants this year to last through the WNIT title game on April 2.

“We’re going to give it our everything,” Albright said.

“After we lost (in the WAC Tournament) it was a heartbreaking loss,” said senior Tahnee Robinson, who scored 22 points against St. Mary’s and is eighth in the nation at 22.2 points a game. “We definitely wanted to make the NCAA. But this is the next best thing. So we’re all very thankful.”