Nevada sophomore guard Da’Ja Hamilton saved one of her most memorable collegiate performances for the final buzzer on Saturday.
Trailing San Diego State by one point with 8.6 seconds remaining, Hamilton scored a game-winning, put-back layup with 3.1 seconds left to give the Pack a 70-69 victory.
The Nevada women’s team improved to 9-9 overall and 2-5 in Mountain West Conference play this season. Nevada has a pivotal road matchup against in-state rival UNLV on Wednesday.
Hamilton’s clutch performance down the stretch capped-off her impactful night on the floor She scored eight points on 3-of-9 shooting with three offensive rebounds and two assists.
Hamilton focused on improving her play on both ends of the floor throughout the year, and it’s paid dividends for the Pack.
“I just want to become more efficient on offense and stepping up on the defensive side,” she told Tahoe Onstage earlier this season. “Playing both ends of the floor is very important for me. … This team has a lot of talent and I want to grow with them.”
Nevada’s young talent forced Hamilton to take a complementary role off the bench. She started eight of 31 games as a freshman, including five-straight starts to end last season.
Hamilton has made the most of time on the floor this season. The 5-foot-9 guard is averaging 4.6 points and 2.1 rebounds in 15.3 minutes per game. She’s scored a season-high 11 points three times against Portland State, Chicago State and Southern California.
No matter when she enters the game, Hamilton is determined to contribute anyway possible to help Nevada reach its sky-high potential.
“We have a lot of pieces and it takes sacrifice from all of us to fit into a role,” she said. “I’m just going to do whatever it takes to help this team get to where we need to be.”
Hamilton’s speed and quickness complements her crisp ball handling skills. Both of those skills were on display in her game-winning basket against SDSU.
During the waning seconds, she sprinted to the paint to retrieve the pass from junior Miki’ala Maio and used a quick dribble to beat her defender and lay it off the backboard.
Hamilton has used her cat-like quickness to her advantage this season.
“I have a quick first step and I know I can beat people off the dribble,” she said. “It’s a focus I try to lean on. I try to use my quickness to keep up on the defensive end and that can lead to transition offense.”
Hamilton racked up the accolades during her high school years. She was a multi-year basketball letter winner at Etiwanda High in Rancho Cucamonga, California and she competed in four-straight Baseline League championships.
She earned three consecutive first-team all-league honoree selections and was an All-CIF open division honoree. Hamilton also played AAU basketball for So Cal Select and West Coast Premier, paving the road to a bright future on the hardwood.
“It just gave me an idea of what to expect coming here,” she said. “There were a lot of experienced players in both leagues that were All-Americans and I had to keep up with the pace. Overall, it really helped. I didn’t know how hard I had to work to get here and that showed me.”
Hamilton has flashed in two seasons with Nevada thus far. But it’s her drive toward improvement that makes her and the Wolf Pack hungry for more.
“Coming from last year, we have what it takes to compete,” she said. “We just need to stick together and follow coach (Amanda) Levens’ instruction. If that’s what it takes to win, we’ll do what we have to.”
— Isaiah Burrows
Nevada women’s team gears for upcoming road trip against UNLV
The Nevada women’s basketball team returns to the road for a pair of away contests this week, starting with a rivalry game down in Las Vegas as the Wolf Pack face the UNLV Lady Rebels Wednesday, Jan. 22 at 6 p.m. from the Cox Pavilion.
Nevada is aiming for back-to-back wins after a thrilling victory over San Diego State its last time out. Nevada has been led lately by one of its seniors in Marguerite Effa, who has scored in double figures in four consecutive games. In that stretch, Effa is averaging 18.8 points per game and scored a career-high 31 points against SJSU. She is just four points away from reaching 300 career points.
UNLV, which started the season 1-4, has been playing well in Mountain West action. The Lady Rebels are 6-4 in their last 10 games and will be in search of their sixth conference win of the season.
Wednesday’s game marks the first of at least two contests between these two programs in the Silver State Series. On October 8, 2012 Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval announced the launch of the new competition that established a formal head-to-head athletic and academic challenge between longtime rivals — the UNLV Rebels and the Nevada Wolf Pack.
Originally called the Governor’s Series, this all-encompassing competition will annually crown one school the winner of what is now the Silver State Series, presented by IBEW Local 401 and Nevada Donor Network.
The Wolf Pack looks to improve in the conference standings with a win over their in-state rival on Wednesday.
Milestones: Sophomore forward Imani Lacy is 27 rebounds shy of 200 for her career. … Sophomore guard Essence Booker is 31 points away from reaching 400 career points. … Junior transfer guard Jacqulynn Nakai is 26 points away from reaching 100 career points.