LAS VEGAS – The Cinderella run continues.
The Nevada women’s basketball team, the No. 7 seed, finds itself one victory away from its first NCAA Tournament berth after upsetting Wyoming, 67-63, in the Mountain West semifinals Wednesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
It was Nevada’s third win in as many days. The Pack opened with an overtime win against No. 10 San Diego State on Monday, and followed it up with a double-overtime win over No. 2 UNLV on Tuesday.
Now, the Pack gets a much-deserved day off before it takes on Boise State on Friday at noon in the finals. It is the first time Nevada has reached a conference tournament final since 2009, and if Nevada can pull off another win, it would be the lowest seed to ever win the conference tournament. Utah won the tourney as a No. 5 seed in 2011.
The Pack’s T Moe was asked to describe Nevada’s postseason.
“Fun,” she said. “So much fun.”
Winning is always fun, and this week it’s been fun to be a Pack player, coach and fan. Much more so than from Jan. 24 to Feb. 24 when the Pack lost eight of nine.
“I think as coaches you never let them go there,” coach Amanda Levens said. “We kept focusing on what we were doing well. The very few details we needed to do better to win. In that stretch, only two of the losses were by double digits. We were in every game with a chance to win.
“So being right there we learned a lot of hard lessons, and I kept telling them to keep buying in; keep working. And I also told them I really hope this clicks before we run out of time. The last week of the season, OK, it’s clicking, and it clicked at the right time for us.”
Levens was asked if this was a team of destiny.
“I have no idea,” she said. “For us, we’re just preparing the same way we’ve done all year, and trying to win the game in front of us. We are just trying to stay in the moment. I’ve talked all year about enjoying this as a student-athlete. We want them to be in the moment and enjoy the ride – this entire season and not just this tournament week.
“They are making great memories. I think they are laying a great foundation for our program to come down here and play well. The kids we have coming back will have more confidence when they come back here next year.”
Nevada’s new-found confidence showed down the stretch. Wyoming made several runs at Nevada, but the Pack kept making plays at both ends of the floor.
Nevada’s biggest lead was nine, 53-44, with 6:47 left in the contest, and 57-48 with 5:27 left. Wyoming, which beat Nevada by a combined nine points in the two regular-season outings, refused to go away. The Pack always had answers.
Moe scored in the key with 1:57 left to make it 64-58, but a basket and three-point play by Marta Gomez trimmed the lead to 64-63 with 57 seconds left. That would be the Cowgirls’ last points, though they did have plenty of opportunities.
Nevada took a timeout with 32 seconds left. Moe misfired on a 3-pointer, but the Pack’s Camariah King stole the ball from Wyoming’s Sladjana Rakovic after the rebound.
Wyoming took two quick fouls in an effort to stop the clock and get Nevada to the line. Moe buried a free throw to make it 65-63 with 14.8 left . The ball went out of bounds after the second free throw, and after going to the replay monitor, Nevada was awarded possession.
After another foul, Jade Redmon missed a free throw, but then made her second attempt for a 66-63 lead The Cowgirls had a chance to tie, but Selale Kepenc’s 3-pointer was off the mark.
Moe led Nevada with 17, Teige Zeller added 16 and King scored 11.
When you look at some of the numbers, it’s hard to believe Nevada won. Wyoming won the rebound battle, 33-20; had an 18-9 edge in second-chance points; and won the points in the paint, 38-28.
Two key stats for Nevada were turnovers (3) and shooting 56 percent from beyond the arc while holding Wyoming to 29 percent in that category.
“Yeah, we didn’t execute our last two possessions,” Levens said. “I thought we panicked a little bit. Maybe we’ll be there on Friday and do a better job.
“Taking care of the ball was huge and having extra possessions. When they were fighting back, if we weren’t getting shots on those possessions, it could have gone the other way very easily.”
Moe said she didn’t know that the Pack only turned the ball over three times.
“That’s really good,” she said. “I think just being in our own style of play, like we didn’t let them force us to do anything we didn’t want.”
And, there were also several big plays from Zeller and King in the second half.
Zeller’s putback gave Nevada a 53-44 lead, and after Wyoming scored to make it 53-46, Zeller scored two baskets to get the lead to nine again. And, she stopped the Cowgirls’ 6-0 run with a reverse layup to make it 59-54 with 3:10 left.
“I knew this was a big game, and I wanted to get to the championship,” Zeller said. “I can’t explain how it happened.”
“She got to the basket when we needed her to,” Moe said.
Of King’s four baskets, three were 3-pointers. The last triple gave Nevada a six-point lead late in the fourth quarter.