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Criner has defended her territory for Wolf Pack

DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer

LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Kim Gervasoni likes her teams to play pressure defense, and when she saw Dellena Criner in high school, she knew she had struck gold.

Criner, a sophomore, is already third all-time in steals at Nevada with 120, and she has already established herself as one of the premier defenders in the Western Athletic Conference; the perfect point person for the Pack’s trapping, pressure style of defense.

It’s not a surprise to Gervasoni, who was the only coach to offer the 5-foot-7 Criner a full-ride scholarship.

“I recruited her for her defense,” Gervasoni said. “When I first came here, I couldn’t run the defense that I wanted because I didn’t have the people. She is the type of kid that can pick up the ball 90 feet from the basket and keep the player in front of her.

“She is unique. Defense is hard, and you have to have a passion for it. It’s hard work. She is one of the best on-the-ball defenders in the country. Her off-the-ball defense will get better. She’s a unique kid in that she wants to play defense. It’s hard work.”

And, nobody knows it better than Criner. She averages about 31 minutes a game, and that’s a testament to her conditioning and work ethic.

“It’s physically tough, ” Criner said. “You are defending 90 feet and I’m bringing the ball up 90 feet. It has to be done.

“To a certain extent I was good defender in high school. I’ve improved a whole lot since I came here. I know that’s one of the reasons coach recruited me.”

Criner was quick to credit her teammates for helping her lead the team in steals (79) this year.

“It wouldn’t have happened without my teammates,” Criner said. “They help open up the court for me.”

Gervasoni was quick to point out that Criner didn’t suffer a sophomore jinx after her successful freshman season which earned her a spot on the all-freshman.

“There has definitely been no sophomore jinx with her,” Gervasoni said. “I think she should have made the all-defensive team last year. Dellena is like a sponge. She soaks up everything you say and tries to use it to improve as a player.

“My goal for her was to make the all-defensive team this year. She’s become a more complete player this year. When I saw her play, all she could do is get to the basket. She didn’t have a pull-up jump shot and she didn’t have an outside shot. She was getting to the rim, but that’s all she was doing. This year she has done everything.”

She is shooting better from the floor and is averaging a team-leading 14.4 per game compared to 7 a game as a freshman. She is shooting 42 percent from the field and a respectable 34 percent from the 3-point line. She also is one of the top free-throw shooters at 74 percent.

What’s even more amazing is that Criner didn’t start to play basketball until she was in eighth grade.

“I was really into biking before basketball,” Criner said. “I was doing BMX just for fun.”

Now any fun she has is derived from making her opponent’s life miserable.