By Nicole Skow
It appeared that the Nevada women’s basketball team slipped into old habits in its loss to Fresno State 48-73 on Wednesday night before turning things around in a come-from-behind 75-73 victory against New Mexico on Saturday.
Going into the week, the Wolf Pack and Bulldogs were tied for third place in the Mountain West Conference. Nevada needed a strong weekend to stay in the hunt for the top spot in the conference. With the split, the Pack and Fresno State fell to a fourth-place tie.
Associate head coach Camille Williams called it when she predicted that Fresno would come out “hungry” and ready to fight. Nevada guard Arielle Wideman pinned the team’s struggles on the Bulldogs pressing defense.
“We just had a hard time scoring against their defense,” she said. “We just didn’t play as hard as we usually do.”
Everything seemed to go wrong against the Bulldogs. Baskets refused to drop; it was as if there was a metal lid on the hoop refusing to open its hatch for the Wolf Pack. Nevada shot a dismal 28.6 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from the free-throw line.
The Pack hung on for as long as they could, but the Bulldogs’ shots began falling. Fresno slowly started to pull away and its lead grew and grew. Nevada showed some life in the second half as it made some runs and tried to claw itself out of the hole, but the hole was too deep to overcome.
For the first half of Saturday’s game, it seemed as if the team from Wednesday made another appearance. The Wolf Pack came out slow and sluggish in the first half, allowing New Mexico to extend the lead as much as 11 on 68 percent shooting.
“In the first half, I didn’t think we were that bad,” Nevada head coach Jane Albright said. “They hit tough shots. They were at 68 percent, but I didn’t think our defense was that bad. We got shots we wanted but we just missed. In the second half, we settled back in and shot better than we normally did (and) executed down the stretch.”
At the start of the second half, Nevada went on a 7-2 run to close the gap to three points. The teams traded baskets for the rest of the half until LeSure hit two game-winning free throws with 21 seconds to play.
Ironically, fellow teammate Ashley Jones predicted that LeSure would have to hit the two game-winning free throws after LeSure missed them in practice. Once the game finished, LeSure hugged Jones first and celebrated the win. LeSure didn’t let the pressure of the free throws get to her. She viewed it as just another point, not the points that would determine the win.
“I was just thinking, ‘it’s just another free throw,’” LeSure said. “You can’t put too much pressure on yourself because you know you can make that. You can make those shots in practice.”
While Fresno was a little bump in the road and New Mexico offered a bit of a scare, Nevada recovered well from the tough week. Other than its terrible shooting against Fresno, Nevada outrebounded them 47-38 and only had two more turnovers than the Bulldogs. The major differences came in the forms of shooting, blocks and assists.
The Lobos were a completely different opponent. Statistically speaking, the game belonged to Nevada. New Mexico was 0-8 on the road coming into the game. Luckily, the Pack stopped idling and turned the engine on when it was needed. Despite New Mexico outrebounding them 39-38, the Pack led in assist, blocks and turnovers. It forced 15 on the Lobos while it had a season low of six.
With five games left, the Wolf Pack can’t afford to slip up as MWC Tournament seeding is up for grabs. Nevada travels to San Jose State on Wednesday before returning home to face Air Force on Saturday. The Spartans come off a lopsided loss to Wyoming while Air Force has a week to recuperate from its loss against San Diego State.
Nicole Skow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.