Nevada women’s basketball beats UNLV
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – Nevada got the proverbial monkey off its back Friday night with its first win over in-state rival UNLV since the 1999-2000 season.
The Wolf Pack, led by Brandi Fitzgerald, Dellena Criner, Mikail Price and Shavon Moore, built up a 17-point first-half lead and cruised to an 84-63 victory at Lawlor Events Center.
Criner led the way with 22, 16 of those coming in the second half. Fitzgerald, Moore and Price added 14 apiece.
“It’s another step in the history of Nevada basketball,” Criner said, savoring her first-ever win over the Rebels. “We’re turning the program around. We are progressing.”
Nevada is off to an 8-3 start, matching the record of the 1985-86 squad and the 1999-2000 team. The 84 points, which came on 55 percent shooting from the floor, are the most this year. It matches the total of a Dec. 1, 2002 game against Eastern Michigan.
“I’m definitely pleased,” said Nevada coach Kim Gervasoni, who beat the Rebels for the first time in her tenure. “We want to keep improving and keep building on it; not look ahead. I’m excited. Anybody that’s followed our program knows what we’ve gone through as a team (program). It’s been rough and we’ve stuck together.
“Our defense created offensive opportunities tonight, but I thought we executed better in the half-court. Before we rushed shots. We’re starting to understand people’s strengths on offense.”
Save for a 41-32 deficit on the boards, it was hard to find fault with Nevada’s performance. Besides shooting 55 percent, Nevada forced 27 turnovers and finished with 15 steals.
This was vintage Nevada basketball with the Pack’s relentless pressure taking the Rebels out of their game from the outset. It wasn’t just the backcourt duo of Price and Criner doing the ball-hawking, either. Seven different players had at least one steal.
“We’re doing a good job as a team,” Criner said. “Our defense is leading to a lot of offense.”
And, it started early.
Nevada scored 12 of the game’s first 14 points to take control early. Price and Fitzgerald combined for 11 of Nevada’s first 13 points, six of which came off turnovers. Both seem to play with a lot of energy.
“Mikail always brings the energy,” Gervasoni said. “The difference was Brandi. When Brandi brings that energy, it takes us to a different level. I’m hoping this is the catalyst to keep playing like that.”
UNLV did close to 13-8 with 13:42 left, but Nevada went on a 19-5 run to extend its lead to 32-13 with 6:18 left. Moore, a true freshman, scored six of her 12 first-half points in that span.
UNLV went 0-for-9 in that stretch and turned the ball over four times. It was indeed a microcosm of the entire first half. Nevada’s defense forced UNLV into 13 first-half turnovers, which Nevada converted into 18 points, and the Rebels shot just 28 percent from the floor.
“They (Nevada) came out on fire,” UNLV coach Regina Miller said. “That was one of their best games of the year. They hit every open shot and we missed every one.
“In order for us to be competitive, (Brittany) Halberg, (Shamela) Hampton and (Sequoia) Holmes have to be consistent.”
The trio was only 8-for-39, and Holmes couldn’t seem to finish a play. She was 5-for-21 from the floor, missing several shots from close range.
UNLV improved as the first half went on. The Rebels scored eight straight to make it 32-21 with 4:10 left, as Halberg scored four in that surge.
A 12-6 half-ending run left Nevada with a 44-27 lead. Moore had six straight points in that barrage and Cherlanda Franklin added two straight layups. Moore assisted on one of Franklin’s two scores.
“She fits in our system so well,” Gervasoni said of Moore. “She plays full-court defense and she can guard a 6-3 player (Hampton) on the block. She is so athletic and active.”
The Rebels never got the lead under 17 in the second half, as Nevada went on a 18-8 run over 8-plus minutes to build a 65-38 advantage with 9:17 left.
Seven different players contributed points in that surge – Fitzgerald (4), Bre’Anna Henry (2), Price (4), Criner (2), Jennifer Gross (2), Sabrina Keys (2) and Franklin (2).
“I really had fun playing team basketball,” Moore said. “Everybody was passing the ball and everybody was scoring off the passes.”
Criner scored six points in 65 seconds to boost Nevada to its biggest lead of the game, 72-42. Criner went 5-for-6 from the floor and 4-for-4 from the line in the final 20 minutes.
Notes: Marianne Lombardi didn’t play, and Gervasoni said it wasn’t a discipline issue or anything like that. She elected to play her quicker personnel against the Rebels … Sophomore Marissa Hammond will sit out the rest of the year. Gervasoni said she will undergo reconstructive ankle surgery next week. Gervasoni is hopeful that Hammond will get a medical redshirt season … Criner has scored in double figures in nine consecutive games … Nevada has held nine of its 11 opponents under 70 points. Five of those foes scored less than 60 … Fitzgerald went 1-for-2 from the line, ending her streak of free throws without a miss at 10…Nevada hosts USF Sunday at 2 p.m.