Basketball season is well underway, but that doesn’t mean there still isn’t things to be excited about. For those looking for five marquee matchups to watch this Wolf Pack season, here are a few suggestions to keep an eye on.
No. 5. Nevada at Utah – Dec. 14
Nevada begins their three-game road stint in late December with a trip to Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Utes. The Utes had a season to remember last year. They got off to a sizzling start, beginning the year 18-1 and reaching as high as No.14 in the AP Top 25 poll.
Utah cooled down at the tail end of the season. The group lost eight of its final 10 regular season games, followed by a first round loss to Washington in the Pac-12 tournament for the second consecutive year.
Utah lost Pac-12 Freshman of the year Dre’Una Edwards and the second-leading scorer on the team, Daneesha Provo to knee injuries. This led to head coach Lynne Roberts turning down a WNIT invite.
Coming off its first 20-win campaign since 2012-13, Utah is looking to get back to the postseason and atop the conference.
The Utes lost two of its top three scorers in Edwards and Megan Huff over the offseason. Huff led the group in scoring, totaling 19.6 points per game, netting 47.7 percent of her shots from the floor. Edwards added 11.6 points per game on 54 percent shooting in 22.3 minutes per game.
Projected to finish No. 7 in the conference, Roberts returns six players and two starters. Provo—who started all 13 games she appeared in a season ago—was granted an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA due to her knee injury. The only other senior returning is Kiana Moore. Moore averaged 9.2 points per game, canning 39.8 percent of her three-point shots.
No. 4. Nevada vs. New Mexico – Jan. 25
Unless something occurs with seeding in the Mountain West tournaments, New Mexico will be one of two teams the Pack will only see once this season.
Projected to finish second behind Boise in the Mountain West preseason poll, this is one of the most important home matchups of the year for the Wolf Pack.
The Lobos return two key pieces in Jayla Everett and Aisia Robertson. Both were named to the preseason All-Mountain West first team, finishing No. 2 and No. 3 in scoring last season respectively.
Everett averaged 13.5 points per game on 37.8 percent shooting. Named as the Mountain West freshman of the year and All-Mountain West honorable mention selection, the 5-foot-10 guard set the new single-season school record for most points by a freshman with 417.
Robertson is one of four seniors to return to the roster. The former Kansas transfer averaged 14.3 points on 38.6 percent shooting in her first season of eligibility with the Lobos. Robertson was dubbed the All-Mountain West defensive player of the year after averaging 5.1 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game, along with earning All-Mountain West team honors. Robertson will miss the start of the season due to recovering from ACL surgery suffered in the regular-season finale last year.
New Mexico welcomes in a strong recruiting class highlighted by Corina Carter. Carter, a four-star recruit, was ranked as the No. 16 best point guard and the No. 64 overall player in the nation by ESPN. Carter, along with Fresno State’s Haley Cavinder, were named as Co-Preseason Mountain West freshman of the year.
3. Nevada at USC – Dec. 20
In the second of two road contests versus the Pac-12, the Wolf Pack will travel to Los Angeles to take on the USC Trojans in the first game of the Women of Troy Classic. This might be the biggest non-conference test Nevada faces this season.
USC lost its top three scorers from last season, led by Aliyah Mazyck. Mazyck averaged 15.3 points per game on 39 percent shooting, including 32.3 percent shooting from behind the arc. Minyon Moore, was second on the team with 14.8 points per contest and an All Pac-12 defensive team guard. Moore transferred to Oregon during the offseason.
Her sister, Mariya Moore, also is no longer on the team after graduating. Mariya Moore was third on the team in scoring, second in assists and third in rebounding.
Despite those losses, the Trojans will still look to make noise in the Pac-12. They introduce a highly-touted recruiting class that features three Top 50 ESPN recruits including, No. 36 Endiya Rogers, No. 37 Angel Jackson No. 41 and Alissa Pili.
Rogers—who was ranked as the No. 4 best Texas product in the 2019 class per ESPN—won the Texas Gatorade Player of the Year. Jackson was a McDonald’s All-American Athlete and was selected for the Jordan Brand Classic. Pili, a three-time Alaska Gatorade Player of the Year, holds the current Alaska State scoring record with 2,614 career points.
The Trojans also welcome in two impressive transfers, Stephanie Watts and Aliyah Jeune. Watts—previously with North Carolina—averaged 15.2 points and 5.2 rebounds in 27 games. She led the Tar Heels in three pointers last year, making 82. Jeune, previously with Morehead State, averaged 16.1 points and 6.1 rebounds in 34 games, named to the All-Ohio Valley Conference First team.
No. 2. Nevada vs. Boise State – Feb. 1
Boise State is prime to be atop the Mountain West Conference once again. The Broncos are coming off a 28-win campaign, closed out by a 80-75 loss in the first round NCAA Tournament to Oregon State in overtime. Boise State has won three consecutive Mountain West tournaments, advancing to the NCAA Tournament in four of the last five years.
The Broncos picked up three victories over the Wolf Pack last season, including a 72-67 victory in the second round the Mountain West Tournament.
The Broncos, projected to finish first in the Mountain West, have lost two starters from last year’s team in Marta Hermida and Joyce Harrell. They do however return three starters from last year, led by Braydey Hodgins. Hodgins, named preseason Mountain West player of the year, led the team with 13.2 points per game. She also canned 90 three-pointers on 40.9 shooting from deep, both team-highs.
The team also brings back starter’s Riley Lupfer and A’Shanti Coleman. Lupfer finished second on the team in scoring last year, notching 11.1 points per game after her 16.2 total the year prior. Lupfer joins Hodgins on the preseason All-Mountain West first team selection. Coleman finished the year fourth in points with 9.6 per game. The redshirt senior also led the team in blocks and steals.
Coleman and Mallory McGwire should provide a towering inside presence for the Broncos. McGwire, a 6-foot-5 Oregon transfer, is entering her first year of eligibility with the Broncos after sitting out last season due to the NCAA Transfer rules.
McGwire averaged 4.9 points and 3.5 rebounds, appearing in only 15.6 minutes per game her final season with the Ducks. She was named as the Preseason Mountain West Newcomer of the Year.
No. 1. Nevada at. UNLV – Jan. 22
Rivalry games are always enticing, especially on the road.
The Wolf Pack have been victors in four of its last five regular season games versus the Rebels at Lawlor Events Center. However, in the 20 regular season road contests versus the Rebels dating back to 1982-83, the Pack have yet to escape with a victory.
UNLV lost nine of its first 10 games last season, finishing with a 12-19 record one season after a WNIT appearance. UNLV loses four of its top five scorers, including Katie Powell and Nikki Wheatley. Powell—a two-time first team all conference honoree—averaged 13.2 points, 6.0 rebounds per game in 25 games last season.
Wheatley started all four years with the program. The 5-foot-6 guard—who earned All-Mountain West honors despite missing six games—put together a career-year last season. She averaged 13.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game, all career-highs.
The only starter returning from last year’s team is Bailey Thomas. The former West Virginia transfer—who started 23 games last season—earned All-Mountain West defensive honors after corralling 0.93 steals per game.
UNLV graduated six seniors overall. They return reigning Mountain West Sixth Player of the Year, Rodjanae Wade. Wade, a 6-foot-2 center, finished third in scoring with 8.1 points per game on 43.6 percent shooting. She also hauled in 5.9 rebounds per game and 3.3 offensive rebounds per game.
The program brings in a Top 60 recruiting class. The program introduces Melanie Isbell, a local product from Centennial High School. Isbell is the nation’s No. 28 best point guard, per ESPN.
Matt Hanifan can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.