A gritty performance in front of the home crowd Tuesday lifted the Nevada women’s basketball team to a 78-72 season-opening win over Saint Mary’s.
The six-point victory marks the first season-opening win for the Wolf Pack under third-year head coach Amanda Levens, and its first since it opened the season in 2014. Nevada connected on 53.3 percent of its shots from beyond the arc, making 10 The Pack had multiple triples from three different players, led by three from sophomore Essence Booker, and got two each from sophomore Amaya West and newcomer Jacqulynn Nakai.
Booker led the team in scoring, totaling a career-high 17 points. The Las Vegas native made 7-of-13 from the field, grabbed five rebounds, dished out three assists and posted a steal in 28 minutes. It was also a big night for West, who tied her career high of 14 points. West was near perfect on the night, making 4-of-5 from the field and added four points from the free throw line, four rebounds, three assists, a block and a steal.
All-in-all the Wolf Pack had four post points in double figures with sophomore Imani Lacy adding 13 and newcomer Miki’ala Maio scoring 11. Lacy shot 60 percent from the field, while Maio was 4-of-6 with three assists. Senior Marguerite Effa nearly made it five double-digit scorers for the Pack, finishing with eight points in her Nevada debut.
As for the flow of the game, the Wolf Pack scored the first bucket and never relinquished the lead. The score was tied eight times, but Nevada held strong and did not allow the Gaels a taste of having the advantage. The Pack held an eight-point lead at halftime, but Saint Mary’s trimmed the gap in the third after shooting 50 percent in that period and holding the Pack to under 40 percent.
Nevada took a four-point lead into the final quarter but saw that disappear quickly as Saint Mary’s went on a 4-0 run in the first minute, tying the game at 49. The tie was broken 11 seconds later after freshman Alyssa Jimenez knocked down a clutch 3-pointer. After trading bucket after bucket, the game was tied once again when SMC’s Sam Simons drew a foul call on a made basket and hit the ensuing free throw, knotting the game up at 54.
On the Wolf Pack’s next possession the team regained the lead for good after a 3-ball by Booker. The Gaels cut it back to one on their next possession, but from there Nevada hit its next two shots and added two free throws to push the lead out to seven with 5:54 to play. Saint Mary’s did not go away quietly though. The Gaels kept pushing and eventually cut the lead down to four with 3:40 to go, and then even further to three with just over a minute to play. A fast break layup by Lacy and turnover by SMC that led to two points from Effa put the Pack comfortably ahead by seven with 37 seconds on the clock. SMC’s Taycee Wedin hit a desperation 3-pointer with eight seconds left that brought it to a three-point game, but Nevada made its free throws in that final stretch to seal the win.
Nevada remains at home to host Sacramento State Saturday, Nov. 9, at 1 p.m. for its alumni weekend and LGBTQ Pride game. Season tickets are on sale now for as low as $75 for adults, with discounts available for youth and seniors. Call (775) 348-PACK for more information.
— Katie Rihn, Nevada Athletics