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Women ready to make run for WAC tourney crown

DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer

LAS CRUCES, N.M. – There is an air of excitement surrounding the Nevada women’s basketball program these days.

The Wolf Pack posted a 16-13 overall record en route to a third-place finish in the regular season, and it believes it has a great opportunity to win the WAC post-season tournament.

That journey starts tonight (7:30, ESPN Radio 630 AM) when the third-seeded Wolf Pack battle sixth-seeded Utah State in the quarterfinals of the tourney.

“We’re excited,” Nevada senior guard Traci Graham said. “We have a good chance of taking the WAC. We’re coming off a loss. We’re intent on getting better. It would be amazing (to win). It’s my last chance to do it.”

“We’re pretty pumped,” sophomore guard Dellena Criner said. “It’s a great opportunity at hand. We just have to go in there and give it our best. I know it would mean a lot to Traci and Jessica (Preslar) to win it because they have been her for four years.”

The Pack beat every team in the conference at least once, including second-seeded Louisiana Tech (on the road) and top-seeded Boise State (at home). The Pack women also knocked off Fresno State (on the road), so talking title isn’t just boasting, and this truly is a wide-open tournament.

Nevada split its last two games of the season, knocking off Utah State 61-49 on March 1 and losing 68-57 at New Mexico State on March 3. Nevada and Utah State split their season series. The Aggies won 59-44 on their home floor.

Nevada coach Kim Gervasoni is striving for a more consistent effort this week.

“I know how we’re capable of playing,” Gervasoni said. “We can’t play like that (New Mexico State). We need to come ready to play.

“This (playing again so soon) is an advantage for both teams. Everything is still fresh in their minds. We can’t take them lightly.”

The Aggies, who finished the regular season with three straight losses, are led offensively by Brittany Phillips (11.7), Taylor Richards (11.6) and Jenny Gross (9.0). Phillips led the Aggies in scoring nine times this year and twice eclipsed the 20-point mark. Richards, who has some good quickness and scored 26 earlier this year against Idaho State.

“The first time we played it was a little rough,” Criner said. “We didn’t adjust very well. Now, we’re focusing on what we didn’t do very well when we played them. We’re taking things one game at a time. Our focus is on Utah State.”

Gervasoni echoed her guard’s comments.

“We know how we’re capable of playing,” Gervasoni said. “We can’t play like we did against New Mexico State. We’re excited and focused. We’re in it to win it.”

And, if the Pack can get solid offensive performances from Criner, Graham and Brandi Fitzgerald, and play its usual pressure defense, it can be a factor in the tourney.

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

NEVADA (16-13) VS. UTAH STATE (5-13)

When: Tonight, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Pan American Center

TV-Radio: http://www.WAC.TV/ESPN Radio 630 AM

Coaches: Kim Gervasoni (Nevada); Raegan Pebley (Utah State)

Probable starters: NEVADA – F Brandi Fitzgerald (8.5, 4.6), Jessica Preslar (8.5, 5.2); C Andrea Sitton (3.2, 2.5); G Traci Graham (13.4, 2.6), Dellena Criner (14.4, 3.9). UTAH STATE – F Jenny Gross (9.0, 5.1), Brittany Hagen (4.0, 2.9); G Brittany Phillips (11.7, 5.7), Danyelle Snelgro (7.8, 3.3), Taylor Richards (11.6, 3.8)

Prediction: Nevada 60, Utah State 50