LAS VEGAS — A 9-0 second-half spurt as part of a 17-6 run and four players in double-figures sparked Utah State women’s basketball to a 75-66 win over Nevada Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament at the Orleans Arena at Las Vegas.
In making their highest seeded appearance in the WAC Tournament, the second-seeded Aggies extended their school-record win total, improving to 21-8 overall, by winning their fourth game in a row and sixth in the last seven. Nevada ended its season with a 7-23 record. It was USU’s first win over Nevada in a WAC Tournament, last meeting in the 2007 first round, won by the Wolf Pack, 61-60, in Las Cruces, N.M. The Aggies also evened their record versus the Wolf Pack all time at 9-9 overall and 8-8 as fellow WAC foes, as Wednesday’s win was USU’s fifth straight over Nevada.
Utah State advances to the semifinals of the WAC Tournament for second-straight season, and its three semifinal appearances have all come in the last four years. Wednesday’s win improves to 3-6 in the WAC Tournament.
The Aggies advance to a meeting with third-seeded Louisiana Tech in Friday’s semifinal round. The Lady Techsters defeated sixth-seeded Hawaii, 63-54, earlier today. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m.
Junior guard Devyn Christensen led USU with 18 points, while junior guard Jenna Johnson and senior forward Ashlee Brown added 17 points apiece with senior guard Brooke Jackson adding 15 points. Brown also dished out a game and career-best 12 assists, tying for second in school history, becoming the ninth Aggie player to distribute 12 helpers in a game. The senior forward also missed a triple-double with a team-best eight rebounds. Brown’s double-double was her 11th of the season, breaking last year’s season-best of 10.
USU was out-rebounded, 38-35, but had a 20-17 second-half edge. Jackson pulled down seven rebounds, while freshman forward Franny Vaaulu snared six boards to go along with a career-high three blocked shots, matching Brown for game-high honors.
Utah State also had a second-half advantage in scoring, rallying from a 32-28 halftime deficit, improving to 3-6 when trailing at intermission with two of the three wins coming over Nevada. The Aggies put together a second-half rally in their 84-72 regular-season win at Reno on Feb. 16.
Nevada was also led by a double-double, with Kate Kevorken netting 21 points to go with a game-best 12 rebounds. Emily Burns added 11 points while Kayla Williams netted 10.
“Two teams played a really, really, tough game today. Two teams full of players that really respect each other a lot. There’s individual players on each team that you can’t help going into your game plan really not underestimating,” USU head coach Raegan Pebley said. “You look at a kid like Kate Kevorken and what she’s done in her short time at Nevada. I think she has a huge, huge heart. We put a lot of pressure on Amanda Johnson, and you just never saw her fold. Her leadership out there was tremendous.”
Utah State shot 27-of-56 (48.2 percent) from the field, including 5-of-12 (41.7 percent) from 3-point range, and the Aggies were 16-of-20 (80.0 percent) at the free-throw line. Nevada hit 42.4 percent (28-of-66) of its field goals, making 2-of-8 (25.0 percent) behind the arc, and 8-of-13 (61.5 percent) at the charity stripe.
The Aggies dished out 20 assists, while swiping seven steals as part of forcing 15 Wolf Pack turnovers. USU also had six blocks, which was one shy of its season high.
“I think the game plan that Nevada put together was very, very good. At halftime we talked about things and had an identity check. We had a reminder about who we are. We’d seen this game plan before. I think our team really responded in the second half, and our defense really picked up. The deflections that we didn’t get in the first half ended up in Utah State players’ hands in the second half, which gave us possession,” Pebley said.
Johnson started hot for the Aggies, scoring the first four points for Utah State, but Nevada would jump out to an early 8-5 lead with under 17 minutes left in the first half. The Aggies started cold from the field early, on and the Wolf Pack jumped out to a 12-5 edge.
Five-straight points from Jackson tied the score at 12-12 with 9:53 remaining in the half. Three and a half minutes later, Johnson hit her eighth point of the half to tie the score, 18-18.
Christensen scored her first bucket of the game with 4:36 left in the first stanza to cut the 22-20. She scored on the Aggies’ next possession to tie the score at 22-22 with 3:44 left in the half.
For only the eighth time this season, the Aggies entered the locker room trailing, 32-28. Johnson scored 10 of Utah State’s 28 first-half points. Brown added seven points and four rebounds. The Aggies, who lead the nation in 3-point field-goal percentage were only 1-for-5 in the first half, with Jackson knocking down the only trey.
Nevada won the battle of the boards in the first half, out-rebounding Utah State, 21-15, in the first half. The Wolf Pack got a solid first half from Kevorken, who had 10 points and a game-high eight boards. Emily Burns added eight points off the bench for the Wolf Pack.
In the second half, Christensen hit her first three of the game, with 17:05 remaining in the half, to tie the score at 37-37. A Jackson three put USU ahead, 40-39, its first lead since the score was 2-0.
Keeping pressure on the Wolf Pack, the Aggies used a 9-0 run to take a 46-39 lead with 12:47 left in the second half, after a pair of Johnson free throws. Burns later converted a 3-point play to cut the lead to 46-42 at the 11:57 mark in the game.
A pair of Brown free throws gave USU a 54-45 lead with 8:41 left in the game, which expanded to 56-45 after another Brown lay up. Nevada couldn’t cut the gap to single digits until the final minutes, but wouldn’t let USU get a lead bigger than 14.
Fans can also follow all the WAC Tournament action through the “Watch Live,” “Listen Live” and “Live Stats” links at www.UtahStateAggies.com. Fans can also follow USU women’s basketball on twitter at twitter.com/UTAHSTATEofmind or twitter.com/Aggiehoops, and Utah State athletics at twitter.com/USUAthletics, or on facebook at Utah State University Athletics.
Doug Hoffman is the assistant athletic director for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.