2000-01 Season Outlook
Nov. 8, 2000
With only a brief glance at the recent UNLV women's basketball history, it becomes quickly apparent why optimism is in abundance in Las Vegas as the start of the 2000-01 season draws near. And in that brief glance it is even easier to see that the root of the optimism begins with head coach Regina Miller.
When Miller inherited the UNLV women's basketball program prior to the 1998-99 season, the Lady Rebels had won only four games in each of the previous three seasons. Wasting no time, Miller directed her new squad to the best turnaround in Division I play as the Rebels tallied a 17-11 mark in just her first year.
Proving that her first-year success was not a fluke but rather a foundation for the tradition she had planned to establish, UNLV continued to roll in 1999-00. Despite fielding an inexperienced team (only four letterwinners and two starters returning from the 1998-99 squad), Miller and the Rebels reeled off a second straight 17-win season and advanced to the semifinals at the inaugural Mountain West Conference Tournament.
En route to its 17-12 overall mark, last season's edition of UNLV women's basketball posted its first winning record in conference play (8-6) since 1994-95, won six of its last seven games and boasted the program's first All-America selection in 10 years.
With four starters and 11 letterwinners returning, the inexperience is no longer a concern. As they roll into the upcoming campaign, the Rebels have their sights set clearly upon two goals: a Mountain West Conference title and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
The Rebels' unquestioned leader is junior sensation Linda Fröhlich. Miller's first order of business after taking over the UNLV program was to land the prized recruit from Germany, and since then, Fröhlich has garnered nearly every honor possible at both the national and conference level. She was the 1998-99 national Freshman of the Year and earned honorable mention All-America honors last season as well as MWC Player of the Year kudos.
"Linda has a tremendous opportunity to continue to expand her game by moving to the three, her more natural spot," Miller said. "I think the key for Linda is her defensive play in the perimeter. She needs to try to use her size as an advantage. And we need her to step up and continue to be the leader she has been the last two years."
Fröhlich should benefit from the addition of three newcomers over 6-3 to the front court by moving back to small forward, her natural position. She will also not be required to carry as much of the scoring load with the extra balance on the floor.
Joining Fröhlich in the front court will be senior Brooke Ingalls, who returns after missing most of last season with a broken foot. A great role player who adds a strong, physical presence on the block, Ingalls was a starter in the team's first seven games and averaged more than 25 minutes per match. Despite missing 22 games, she still finished fourth on the squad in rebounding with 4.6 board per game.
"Brooke is kind of like our unsung hero," Miller said. "She is a tremendous role player that does all the little things that are not recognized in the stats. She is a great screen setter, she boxes out and defends well. Of all the players, she has the most time in this program and knows what is expected of her."
Senior Marenna Nyffeler and sophomore Dishawn McCracklin also return to the front court. Both were first-year players in 1999-00 and provided defense and depth in the low post. Nyffeler is a solid, fundamental player in the paint who transferred to UNLV from Utah Valley State College. She saw action in nine games last year and was the only Rebel to go perfect form the line (2-for-2).
"Marenna's a great kid. She will play a role for us at both the three and four spot," Miller said. "She has the opportunity to make contributions by doing those unsung hero things."
McCracklin is an aggressive defender who saw quite a bit of action as a freshman. She played in 25 games and earned two starts, averaging 12 minutes per game. Though not the type of player to put up big numbers statistically, she was instrumental in helping to defend some of the taller opponents UNLV faced.
"The experience Dishawn got last year will benefit her this season," Miller said. "She is a strong defensive player and will help us out on the boards."
At 6-2, both McCracklin and Fröhlich were the team's tallest players last year. However, they barely figure into the tallest five this season as all three newcomers check in a 6-3 or taller.
Junior Viveca Löf will make her eagerly awaited Rebel debut this season. The 6-3 native of Stockholm, Sweden transferred from Cal State Northridge prior to last year. She is a big player who can also shoot from the perimeter, and she brings a lot of experience for a newcomer, having played at the Division I level, in the NCAA Tournament and internationally.
"After sitting out last year, we expect Viveca to have an immediate impact in the forward spot, an area where lacked depth," Miller said. "She will be a presence for us on the boards and will most often draw the assignment of defending the opponent's top offensive forward."
Two freshmen also join the mix of newcomers. Padra Strong, a 6-4 forward from Fayetteville, N.C., signed with the Rebels during the early signing period last year. She was a two-time Street & Smith's high school All-American at Pine Forest High School, a WBCA Premier Selectee and a member of the North Carolina Junior Olympic team.
"Padra is a true freshman," Miller said. "She comes with high school experience. The expectation is that she supplements us in the post. She is a good rebounder and has the ability to alter shots."
Last spring, Miller inked her final recruit of the 2000-01 class, German standout Petra Gläser. A 6-6 giant from Amtsberg, Germany, Gläser will be the tallest player in the conference this season and will provide a dominant presence at the center position. Although young and green by Division I standards, she brings international experience as a member of the German U-20 National team.
"Petra will also bring an immediate impact," Miller said. "She will have a presence in the middle for us, both offensively and defensively. Her international experience will only enhance our level of play."
The recruiting focus was on front-court players because seven of the team's 11 returners are guards, all of whom saw significant minutes last season. With so many guards, Miller can field any combination of scorers, distributors and defenders without missing a beat during a game.
Although truly a shooting guard and a proven scorer, junior Kinesha Davis frequently found herself in a small forward role last season. As a results, she was not only the team's second-leading scorer with 14.3 ppg, but also the second-leading rebounder with 6.0 rpg. She is a strong player who gets good position, can find a shot in traffic and score from anywhere on the floor. She was third in the league in scoring and tops among newcomers while finishing eighth in rebounding.
"We are expecting Kinesha to give us very consistent play this year," Miller said. "We will lean on her to give us points from the perimeter as well as play good defense."
Junior Erin Johansson is another pure shooter on whom the Rebels will be able to rely this year. A three-point specialist, she already holds the school record for treys in a game (7), and her 54 goals from beyond the arc last year was the third best single-season total in UNLV history. Her deadly shot is combined with tenacious defense and earned her 27 starts in 1999-00 and will keep her in the game for many minutes this winter.
"I want Erin to sit behind the three-point line and shoot it," Miller said. "She is a great shooter and a great leader, and I look for her to continue to provide those qualities this season."
Challenging Davis and Johansson for minutes will be sophomore Constance Jinks. Jinks was chosen to the MWC All-Newcomer team last year after finishing third on the team and 14th in the league in scoring. She is very athletic and quick, and can score well off the dribble. A skilled ball-handler, Jinks will be counted on to play minutes as both the point and shooting guards.
"Constance will provide us quickness, speed and defensive intensity," Miller said. "She is always a spark, whether she starts or comes off the bench."
Senior Dayna Gambill is the incumbent starter at point guard and should see plenty more of the same this season. She was a solid and efficient ball handler, finishing second in the MWC in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.75) and third in assists per game (4.03). Although not counted on to score, she can hit big shots when necessary. Her .415 three-point shooting percentage last season ranks fourth on the UNLV single-season performance list.
"Dayna will again be our floor general," Miller said. "Her play will be key to our overall success. I expect her to control the ball for us at both ends of the court, offensively and defensively."
Talisha Mitchell spelled Gambill at the point and will play a similar role this year after benefitting from a Division I season under her belt. She is quick and adds help to the pressure defense.
"Talisha elevates us on the defensive end of the court with aggressiveness and intensity," Miller said. "And, her speed and explosive power at the offensive end will supplement our perimeter game."
Rounding out the guards are senior Tiana Sanders and junior Courtney Swanson. Sanders showed flashes of brilliance last year after transferring from Pasadena City College. She can score both inside and out and defends well. She posted one double-double last season, an 18-point, 10-rebound performance against Weber State.
"Tiana is our secret weapon," Miller said. "Sometimes it takes a Juco player a year to transition and learn a new system, and now she is ready. She is a strong all-around player. She has the ability to shoot the three, she can drive to the basket, she's a good rebounder and she can defend. We expect her to contribute in those ways."
Swanson returns for her third year in the Miller system. She is a tall and physical guard who can contribute at both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. She played in 25 games as a key reserve last year.
"The expectation is that Courtney will play a strong role for use this year. She will add some three-point shooting and defense for us."
With 14 players and plenty of depth at every position, the Rebels should play a bit more of an up-tempo style this year. Additionally, the wide range of skills among the squad's players will help them to create mismatches on offense and provide a relentless, attacking defense.
The Lady Rebels will get three chances to test that style of play at home to open the year. They begin the regular season against Texas-San Antonio on Nov. 20 before hosting the Cox Communications/Lady Rebel Shootout just after Thanksgiving.
The non-conference slate features road trips to Chicago, Ill., for the Roger L. White Invitational, and single-game trips to Arizona, Eastern Washington and UC Santa Barbara. Between those trips, the Rebels enjoy a four-game home stand against Cal State Northridge, Pacific, upstate rival Nevada, Reno and Prairie View A&M.
Mountain West Conference play begins in early January, and the Rebels face the defending champs right out of the chute. They will meet Utah in the Thomas & Mack Center on Jan. 11, seeking revenge for their last two losses.
After completing MWC play during the first week on March, UNLV will return to the comforts of home to try and capture the conference tournament, slated for March 7-10 at the Thomas & Mack Center. And this year the stakes will be much higher with a coveted automatic NCAA Tournament berth on the line.