If the Nevada women’s basketball team needs any reason to believe what is possible when it opens play at the Mountain West Tournament on Sunday in Las Vegas, it can look back to last season.
Seeded seventh in the event, the Wolf Pack went on an unlikely run to the championship game, knocking off San Diego State in overtime in the first round, UNLV in two overtimes in a quarterfinal and edging Wyoming by four in the semifinal before losing to Boise State on a buzzer-beater in the title game.
Nevada enters this year’s event as an equal underdog. The eighth-seeding Wolf Pack, which went 11-18 overall and 7-11 in the MW, plays No. 9-seeded San Jose State in the first round at 2 p.m. Sunday at Thomas & Mack Center. The season has been a struggle but the tournament offers a fresh slate. All games at the tournament except for the title game will air locally on Nevada Sports Net.
“There’s always a lot of hope with that,” coach Amanda Levens said of a tournament setting. “Last year was such a fun run and we were playing really well at the right time. Our team has a little bit of confidence based on that. Our team is playing a little better. We’re hitting some shots we weren’t hitting at the start of the season. For us, we just want to keep working hard and see what can happen. I told our team: ‘I want no regrets. Let’s give all we have and see what happens these last few games.’”
The Wolf Pack hasn’t beaten any of the top-three teams in the MW Tournament, going 0-5 against Boise State, New Mexico and Wyoming, but it dropped a one-point decision to the Broncos, a two-point decision to the Lobos and a four-point decision to the Cowgirls. So Nevada isn’t afraid of anybody in the bracket, knowing a deep run isn’t out of the question, but neither is a quick exit if it doesn’t play well.
“We have confidence we can beat anybody on any night in our conference, but at the same time we know if we don’t do what we’re supposed to we also can get beat by anybody on any night in our conference,” Levens said. “There’s no room for error. We have to really control the things that are in our control extremely well. The difference between going home and playing longer is controlling the things you can control in an excellent way.”
With five of Nevada’s top-eight scorers being freshmen, it has been a season that has required patience from Levens. Seniors Jade Redmon (14.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.3 apg) and Terae Briggs (14 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.7 spg, 52.1 FG%) have both had stellar seasons and must play well like Nevada’s seniors did last season for the Wolf Pack to make a repeat deep run next week.
“Things are finally starting to come together,” Redmon said. “We’re learning how to play a full 40 minutes and how to play hard for a full 40 minutes. I think things are starting to go in our favor.”
Nevada, which has won three of its last six games, scored a 52-49 victory at San Jose State in the only matchup between the two teams this season. That was back on Jan. 9. SJSU has struggled this year, going 6-23 overall and 5-13 in the MW. The winner of Nevada-SJSU advances to face top-seeded Boise State (25-4, 16-2) at noon Monday, which could set up a rematch from last year’s MW title game.
“We’re definitely a team people should be wary of and have on their mind with what we did last year and the way we have played the top teams very close,” Redmon said. “The ball is in our favor. We just have to go out and play. My thing about March is that anything can happen. We see that every year in the NCAA Tournament. If you play hard, things usually work out in your favor.”
Nevada signee Dominique Phillips earn top award
Nevada women’s basketball signee Dominique Phillips has been named the Gatorade Arizona Girls Basketball Player of the Year. Phillips, a native of Goodyear, Ariz., is the first to win this award out of Millennium High School. She is now a finalist for the Gatorade National Player of the Year award.
The 6-0 senior guard led the Tigers to a 27-4 record and their first Class 5A state championship, averaging 15.6 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 3.1 steals per game. She was the player of the game in the state championship, the region’s MVP this season and is a two-time first team All-State honoree.
Phillips joins Nevada this summer with two other fall signees: Aly Jimenez and Jena’ Williams.
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.