Nevada women ready to start season | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada women ready to start season

RENO – The University of Nevada women’s basketball team opens the 2004-05 season by hosting the John Ascuaga Nugget Classic tonight and Saturday at Lawlor

Events Center.

The Wolf Pack, who split two exhibition contests, open tonight at 8 against Cal-State Fullerton, which dropped its only exhibition game back on Oct. 30. The tournament kicks off at 5:30 p.m. when Colorado battles Loyola Marymount. The tournament concludes

Saturday with the consolation game at 1 p.m. and the finals at 6 p.m.

Nevada is coming off a disastrous 3-26 season, which saw it finish the season with just eight healthy players, and it endured a horrible off-season filled with tragedy.

The team lost its starting returning point guard, Jocelyn Mancebo, to a brain tumor; lost two players, freshman Jourdan Willard and junior Angelita Hutton to knee surgeries; center Natasha Lobendahn was ruled ineligible by the NCAA because she was lacking proper high school courses; and assistant coach Mike Gervasoni was tragically killed in an auto accident.

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Second-year head coach Kim Gervasoni is no doubt anxious to get started, and she certainly thinks this group has a chance to win more games than last season.

“The girls understand that they need to work hard,” Gervasoni said. “They understand they need to bring that work (ethic) to practice each day. That was a problem last year. This group understands how to push through that sort of thing (fatigue). We keep improving steadily and we have to keep recruiting better players. My five-year plan is right on schedule.

“When we talked about personal team goals, I think if we’d had a few more bodies, we could have won some of those close games last year. We should do that this year. We’re deeper and more talented. I’d like to be 12 deep, but there are a few players that still aren’t there yet. We’re a solid nine deep, but those nine have to earn those minutes in practice.”

Gervasoni said she has gone away from a full-court pressure defense because the team isn’t quick enough to do it. The Wolf Pack will still play a man-to-man defense, however.

With Mancebo gone, Gervasoni doesn’t have a true ball-handling point guard.

“I expect us to be pressured,” she said. “Jocelyn was a great player, and she could handle that. We don’t have a go-to player, but we’re trying to establish that with a couple of players.”

The Wolf Pack coach is hoping that senior April Bankston and sophomore Jessica Preslar will step it up this season. Bankston averaged 10.4 and Preslar 5.9.

Reserve point guard Traci Graham is the team’s second-leading returning scorer at 8.1 a contest.

Gervasoni doesn’t know much about Fullerton, save for what she’s been able to get off various websites. The Titans do return nine players, including 5-10 forward

Charlee Underwood, 6-1 center Amber Pruitt and 5-5 point guard Meghann Keathley, all of whom started last year.

“Pruitt is one of their top scorers and a big girl inside,” Gervasoni said. “They are an aggressive team defensively and a very strong rebounding team.

“Rebounding will be key for us. I expect our team to be ready.”

Fullerton shot just 27 percent from the field in its lone exhibition game, including 18.9 percent in the first 20 points. Pruitt scored 18 to lead the way and Underwood added 13.

Notes: Admission for tonight’s games are $7 for adults and $5 for children…The men’s Jim Thorpe Classic and the Nugget tournament overlap on Saturday. For $25, fans can see all four tournament games.

Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1281.