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Nevada women have made strides

Darrell Moody
Appeal Sports Writer

Nevada’s women’s basketball team made huge strides this season with 13 wins, but it was Friday’s 69-60 loss to No. 17 Louisiana Tech that showed the Wolf Pack may have turned the corner.

Nevada didn’t flinch. It didn’t back down. It took every blow perennial powerhouse Louisiana Tech delivered and came back for more.

“I love playing teams like Louisiana Tech,” Nevada coach Kim Gervasoni said. “We’re not afraid to play with anyone. We have to work in the off-season to get better and stronger for next year.

“Mentally we have turned the corner. They used to hope they could win. Now they (the kids) believe they can compete with anybody in the country. That’s half the battle.”

Junior guard Traci Graham hopes the close loss to the Lady Techsters is a sign of things to come for the Pack women, whose 13 wins was the most since the 2000-01 season under Ada Gee.

“This is a disappointing loss, but it’s a building point for next year and for getting better in the future,” Graham said. “This shows what we need to work on for next season.”

Nevada’s improvement was duly noted by Louisiana Tech coach Chris Long.

“I give Nevada a lot of credit,” Long said. “They fought very hard. They improved as the year went along as much as any team I’ve seen in a long time.

“I’m not up here to toot their praise. They won 10 of their last 14 and three of those losses were to us. They ran through the rest of the conference.”

Yet Long stopped short of saying Nevada was the second-best team in the WAC.

Progress has been made, though, and anybody who follows the Nevada women knows that.

In wins alone, Nevada has improved. The Pack were 3-26 in Gervasoni’s first year followed by 8-22 last year and 13-17 this season.

The first improvement is in the recruiting. Every year it’s gotten better, and this last season was the best yet when Gervasoni brought in talented Sabrina Keys, a transfer from Purdue, and two athletic, ultra-talented freshmen, Brandi Fitzgerald and Dellena Criner. Fitzgerald was named the WAC Freshman of the Year, averaging 10.8. Criner averaged 6.7.

Tech’s Tasha Williams, who was guarded by Criner, most of the night, was impressed with Nevada’s freshman.

“She handled the pressure,” Williams said. “She will be a great player.”

The second improvement is size. In Gervasoni’s first season, the Pack were a bunch of dwarfs compared to the rest of the WAC teams. They got hammered on the boards every night. Gervasoni brought in taller players like Meghan McGuire, Andrea Sitton and Cherlanda Franklin in the last couple of years. This year, Nevada was only a minus-4 in rebounding.

The third improvement was athleticism and length. Franklin helped in that category, and so have Criner and Fitzgerald. Nevada can run up and down with the best teams in the WAC like Fresno State and Louisiana Tech. That’s something she couldn’t do the first two years.

Nevada is 0-12 against Louisiana Tech, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of, considering that the Lady Techsters have appeared in 24 NCAA Tournaments, made 13 Finals Four appearances and eight title-game appearances with three wins.

With that said, no doubt Louisiana Tech has dominated a lot of teams in its storied past.

Nevada is closing the gap on Tech and the rest of the WAC, and that’s a great sign. It would be nice for the Pack to win more games and start getting people excited about women’s basketball.

Gervasoni’s contract is coming up for renewal, and I’m hoping the university extends it a few more years. She’s had to endure the loss of her husband, Mike, to a tragic car accident before last season, and certainly that hampered the team’s performance. Also, the cupboard wasn’t exactly full when she came aboard.

You ask a coach to win more games each year, and she’s done that. If Criner and Fitzgerald are any indication of the type of talent that Gervasoni can lure to Nevada, then the program is headed in the right direction with her at the helm.