Nevada sophomore guard Da’Ja Hamilton saved one of her most memorable collegiate performances for the final buzzer on Saturday, Jan. 18.
Trailing San Diego State by one point with 8.6 seconds remaining, Hamilton scored a game-winning putback layup with 3.1 seconds left to give the Wolf Pack a 70-69 victory.
Hamilton’s clutch performance down the stretch capped-off her impactful night on the floor. She scored eight points on 3-9 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 said 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 her 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 any way 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 complement 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.”
Before her arrival at Nevada, Hamilton racked up the accolades during her high school years. She was a multi-year basketball letter winner at Etiwanda High in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. and 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 towards 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 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SagebrushSports.