The kids are all right. Nevada’s women’s basketball team used a zone defense and superior personnel to snap a two-game losing streak, topping Division II Stanislaus State, 80-62, in Reno on Tuesday.
Ear-splitting shrieks from more than 3,700 Washoe County School District students at the “When I Grow Up” game, boosted the Wolf Pack, which improved to 5-3 overall, 0-1 in the Mountain West Conference. Stanislaus State fell to 5-5. The Warriors are 3-1 in the Central Coast Athletic Association.
The Wolf Pack rebounded from an ugly 68-61 loss at home on Dec. 7 to Air Force in their conference opener.
“It was an amazing atmosphere with all of these kids here,” Nevada coach Amanda Levens said. “We started strong, which is important coming off a loss. And then we were able to get a bunch of people in the game.”
Nevada shot 46.9 percent from the floor and made 7 of its 18 three-point attempts. Imani Lacy scored 16 points and had 10 rebounds for her first double-double of her career. Essence Booker and Miki’ala Maio each added 12. Jacqulynn Nakai had nine points, sinking three of Nevada’s seven from beyond the arch.
Nevada came out with a 2-3 zone and clogged passing lanes, deflecting three passes in the Warriors’ first two possessions. Nevada played a zone defense for the entire game for the first time this season. The Wolf Pack forced 17 turnovers to Stanislaus’ 11.
While the zone forced the Warriors to shoot from the outside, it made rebounding more difficult.
“That’s why I’ve never been a fan of (zone defense),” Levens said. “I also don’t like giving up points in the paint and we’ve been giving up a lot of points in the paint.
“So the zone protects us in the paint and it also is killing us in our rebounding. If we can learn to rebound in the zone I think it will be a great defense for us.”
The Wolf Pack’s shooting was ice cold early on. But Miki’ala Maio’s bucket at the 7:42 mark put her team ahead 6-5. Nevada never trailed again.
Maio had missed the previous three games with a concussion.
“She makes such a big difference,” Levens said. “She did a great job scoring today and getting to her pull-up shot. That’s the strength of her game. It’s nice to have her back.”
Third-year coach Levens flowed players into the game at nearly every buzzer. Twelve Wolf Pack players had court time in the first half.
The Warriors man-to-man defense couldn’t stop Lacy, who scored with post moves from the elbow and down low. Her free throw with 1:52 left in the half put Nevada up 41-26.
“When you’re hot, you’re hot and you’ve just got to keep going until you’re not,” Lacy said.
Da’Ja Hamiton’s steal and fast-break pass to Maio gave the Wolf Pack their third 15-point lead of the game. Nia Alexander’s offensive put-back basket put Nevada ahead 45-28 at halftime.
Nevada, which had started out shooting so poorly, made 51.5 percent of its shots in the first half.
It was the third-straight year Stanislaus State was the opponent for the “When I Grow Up” game.
“It’s so loud, I love it for our players,” Levens said. “I’ve been to games like this before and kids cheer for whoever scores. But not in Nevada. They never cheer when the opponent scores. It’s a huge home-court advantage for us. Also, it’s great to get the kids on campus. It gives them a chance to start thinking about their future.”
The Warriors went to a full-court press and zone defense in the second half. They forced a couple of turnovers and cut the lead to 13 points with 8:25 remaining.
Following a time out, Nevada broke the press and Booker swished a short jumper to put the Wolf Pack up 66-51. After the game, the players went into the stands and signed autographs for the young students.
The teams ended the game even in rebounds and Levens was not pleased.
“We gave up 21 offensive rebounds,” she said. “We might not win another conference game this year if we give up that many second chances.”
Up Next: Nevada faces Utah of the PAC-12 Conference on the road on Saturday, Dec. 14.