Nevada women look to continue to improve | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada women look to continue to improve

BY DARRELL MOODY

Appeal Sports Writer

RENO – Anyone following the Nevada women’s basketball team since Kim Gervasoni took over as head coach can see the improvement.

Every season has yielded a few more wins than the previous season. The Pack went from 3-26 in 2003-04 to 8-22 in 2004-05 to 13-17 in 2005-06 and to 17-15 in 2006-07 and a berth in the Women’s NIT, a first for the school.

That improvement didn’t go unnoticed by the rest of the coaches in the Western Athletic Conference nor by the conference’s media members. The Pack was tabbed second by coaches and third by the media, it’s best finish ever in the preseason polls since Nevada joined the WAC seven years ago.

“The WAC is really improving,” said Gervasoni, whose team starts practice this afternoon at Lawlor Events Center. “A lot of the schools have definitely improved. I don’t know what to expect. I don’t look at preseason polls too much.

“My first two years we were picked to finish 10th. We’ve come a long ways. It’s because of the players that we’ve recruited and the assistant coaches who have gone out and recruited them.”

One of the keys this year is consistency. Gervasoni said the team wasn’t consistent throughout the season.

Gervasoni returns eight players, led by point guard Dellena Criner (14.6 points, 4 rebounds, 2.4 assists), and shooting guard Brandi Fitzgerald (8.4, 4.4, 2.2), both of whom started last season. Six other players return plus Sabrina Keys (knee) and Cherlanda Franklin (ankle), both of whom redshirted with injuries last year and both of whom were starters going into the season.

“I think we’re at least 10 (strong) deep,” said Gervasoni. Now, it’s a question of finding enough playing time for her scholarship players because she usually doesn’t redshirt anybody unless it’s injury related.

Without Keys and Franklin, Gervasoni was forced to use freshmen Marianne Lombardi and Marissa Hammond more than she probably anticipated. Having Keys and Hammond back, she can parcel out minutes more evenly.

“They both got a lot of good game experience,” Gervasoni said. “They were forced into that role. Marianne is an extremely tough kid. She understood her role. She’s a great screener, and she didn’t play like a freshman. Marissa came on strong in the second half, especially the second half of conference.

“They both got a lot stronger in the off-season. They are tough mentally. They just matured a lot.”

Franklin gives the Pack quickness, rebounding and an improved shooting touch. Keys will give the Pack rebounding, defense and good inside scoring.

Andrea Sitton started 15 of the 16 conference games last season at either power forward or center, but the team needs more than just 4.1 points and 3.2 rebounds a game. She definitely needs to assert herself more and get more physical. Bre’Anna Henry (3.3, 2.3) adds depth in the frontcourt along with true freshman Shavon Moore.

The backcourt is arguably the team’s strength. The team will miss Traci Graham’s 13 points a game and tremendous leadership, but Criner, Fitzgerald, Mikail Price (3.6, 1.6) and Coty Feest (1.6, 0.8) are back.

Much of the backcourt depth could come from new recruits Johnna Ward of Spring Creek, the two-time 3A player of the year, 6-footer Jennifer Gross from perennial powerhouse Berkeley, Nicole Williams from Laguna Creek in Sacramento and Megan Cherry, a transfer from Butler Community College.

“Johnna is a combo guard,” Gervasoni said. “She’s a pretty good passer and can hit her outside shot. She needs to work on defense. She played mostly zone in high school.

“Jennifer can play any position on the floor. She handles it pretty well, is one of the best passers and she’s a pure rebounder. Shavon is a solid athlete. She has long arms, runs the floor, and she can score inside or outside. Nicole is a good athlete. I’m eager to see her (in a full team setting).”

• Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281

THE WOLFPACK FILE

Head coach: Kim Gervasoni, 4th season

2006-07 record: 17-15 overall, 10-6 in conference

Letterwinners back: 9

Starters back: 3

Top players back: Dellena Criner (14.6 ppg) and Brandi Fitzgerald (9.0 ppg)