#MWMadness: Utah State Stifles Nevada to Advance to Quarterfinals

 

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By W.G. Ramirez
Special to TheMW.com

 

LAS VEGAS - When talking about toughness, and looking to get the most grit from his players, Utah State coach Jerry Finkbeiner said he uses UFC references to motivate the Aggies.

Thus, refusing to quit and using a submission mentality, No. 7 seed Utah State used a suffocating defense for a third time this season on No. 10 Nevada en route to a 59-35 victory in Monday's opening round of the 2016 Mountain West Women's Basketball Championships.

Sophomore guard Funda Nakkasoglu led the Aggies with 18 points, four points and four rebounds, while freshman Rachel Brewster added 12 points and five rebounds.

With the win, the seventh-seeded Aggies advance to Tuesday's quarterfinals, where they will meet No. 2 seed Fresno State at 6 p.m.

"We watched Holly Holm and Miesha Tate two nights ago, we were at Holly Holm's gym about three weeks ago and we don't want everyone to tap out," Finkbeiner said. "Talking about Miesha Tate, how she got Holly in a choke and with all her might didn't let go. We're using some of that stuff in the tournament."

The Aggies, whose 67.8 points allowed ranked eighth in the league this season, swept its regular season series with Nevada by limiting the Wolf Pack to just 60.5 points in the two meetings. Monday night seemed much easier in holding the Wolf Pack to more than 20 points below their 57.2 average.

"I think it honestly comes down to the heart and energy and effort that we personally had as a team," said Utah State sophomore Funda Nakkasoglu, who was named to the all-Mountain West team earlier in the day. "We knew this was our last chance. It was a do-or-die game. We had to come, give it all we had, put everything on the line, and not leave anything on the court."

After the teams fought to a 10-10 tie after one quarter, Utah State outscored the Wolf Pack 49-25, including a stinging 15-4 fourth quarter.

The Wolf Pack couldn't find its rhythm from the field, hitting just 11 of 59 (.186). Nevada didn't make its 10th field goal until the fourth quarter, as it shot 9 of 46 (.195) from the floor over the first three quarters.

"We just really played with heart and passion and I think that's what, you know, it helped us stay down low in our defensive stance, try to go for the steal, box out, rebound. All those keys to stopping people on defense."

Though Utah State wasn't spectacular from the floor either, hitting 37.3 percent (19 of 51) from the field, it used a 34-21 run over the second and third quarters to take the Pack out of the game.

"Our young team really showed a lot of youth today," Nevada coach Jane Albright said. "Utah State is long, lean. Funda is a really good point guard. We knew we had to contain her. We knew we had to keep them off the free throw line, and the second quarter they get nine free throws, so that was definitely the difference."

The Aggies finished 18 off 22 from the free throw line, while Nevada managed to get to the charity stripe just 12 times, hitting 10.

Nevada found itself in foul trouble heading into the fourth quarter, as four players had three fouls each, including all-Mountain West honorable mention Nyasha LeSure. By mid-fourth quarter Tiege Zeller and starters Halie Bergman were called for their fourth fouls, while the Aggies built a 22-point lead, 57-35.

Also having a big game for Utah State was Antoina Robinson, who registered her first double-double of the campaign, with 11 points and 13 rebounds.

Behind Robinson's presence, the Aggies dominated Nevada in the paint, outscoring the Pack there, 20-8, and outrebounding it 48-34. Utah State took full advantage of Nevada's shooting woes, snatching 36 defensive rebounds.

"My main focus was rebounding and trying to get shots for Funda," Robinson said. "I was trying to rebound as much as I can, and run the floor and get post players out and play my game. I didn't know how it was going to play out for me today, but I guess it worked out."

The teams tied for the second-lowest total points (94) ever scored in a Mountain West Tournament game, while the Aggies held the Pack to its lowest field goal shooting percentage ever. Nevada's 35 points was the lowest ever scored in school history.

 

Willie Ramirez is a Las Vegas-based freelance reporter and Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter: @WillieGRamirez