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Mountain West women's basketball preview 2021-22

Mountain West Women’s Basketball Preview 2021-22

It was a very strange season in the Mountain West a year ago, as it was for much of women’s college basketball. Non-conference schedules were extremely stunted, and San Jose State, which finished third in the league in 2019-20, played just four games before it called it quits because of COVID-19. New Mexico won its first regular season Mountain West title since 2005, and the conference tournament was ridiculous, with No. 7 seed Wyoming and its 8-8 MW record eventually toppling No. 4 seed Fresno State in the championship, 59-56, for the league’s auto bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Hopefully, 2021-22 brings more of a standard campaign that will include everyone playing a full slate, though we could do with some of the chaos from a season ago (who doesn’t love to see a No. 7 seed win a conference tournament, other than said tournament’s high seeds?).

Let’s take a look at what to expect from Mountain West women’s basketball this upcoming season.

Mountain West Women’s Basketball Preview 2021-22

The Favorites: Nevada, New Mexico

Nevada

Head coach: Amanda Levens (5th season)

2020-21 record: 13-9 (9-7 in Mountain West)

Conference finish: 5th

Last summer, Nevada women’s basketball was rocked by enough departures and accusations of a poor culture to suggest a horrific season was on the horizon, but the team managed to stay above .500 in the Mountain West in 2020-21.

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Now in 2020-21, Levens has a lot more of her talent from the previous campaign back again. Da’Ja Hamilton, Nevada’s leading scorer (13.9 points per game) and assister (2.8 assists per contest), will be the headliner for the team this season, with Amaya West, Megan Ormiston, Leta Otuafi, and others serving as her supporting cast. The Wolfpack have a solid group of freshmen also entering the program.

With so much coming back, Nevada feels like a favorite to take the league championship.

New Mexico

Head coach: Mike Bradbury (6th season)

2020-21 record: 15-5 (11-3 in Mountain West)

Conference finish: 1st

Last season, the Lobos won their first regular season title in 16 years, directly rebounding from a below-.500 campaign in 2019-20. Now in 2021-22, UNM will have a good deal of its talent returning to defend its Mountain West women’s basketball crown.

Four of the team’s five starters from last season are back, plus Sixth Person of the Year LaTascya Duff, providing Mike Bradbury with a lot to work with to retain the throne. New Mexico had the league’s most potential offense in 2020-21, averaging 81.2 points per game and shooting 44.9 percent from the floor, in part because of Jaedyn De La Cerda’s 15.0 points per night, which headline the crop of players who are still in Albuquerque.

The departure of Ahlise Hurst means a loss on the wing, but with the staple of backcourt experience New Mexico has, it’s not enough to knock this team off from being one of the 2021-22 favorites.

The Contenders: Colorado State, Fresno State, UNLV, Wyoming

Colorado State

Head coach: Ryun Williams (10th season)

2020-21 record: 15-6 (11-5 in Mountain West)

Conference finish: 3rd

The good news: McKenna Hofschild and her 13.4 points and 5.4 assists per game are back, meaning Colorado State has its tempo-setter and the 2020-21 Mountain West Newcomer of the Year among its ranks. The bad news: no more Lore Devos, Tori Williams, Jamie Bonnarens, nor Ellie Boni, all important pieces to the third-place finish in the previous campaign.

Long-time head coach Ryun Williams will have to ask a lot more of his bench players from a season ago to help fill the voids left by some of his most important contributors last year. Can players like Cali Clark and Sydney Mech thrive in larger roles? We’re about to find out.

Fresno State

Head coach: Jaime White (8th season)

2020-21 record: 17-11 (12-6 in Mountain West)

Conference finish: 4th

The Cavinder twins make for one of the most dynamic duos in all of women’s college basketball, let alone in the Mountain West.

Haley and Hanna Cavinder combined for more than 1,000 points in 2020-21, and Haley was named Mountain West Player of the Year after posting 19.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.7 steals per outing. Simply put, these two are dangerous, and they alone make Fresno State a threat.

But the Bulldogs lost a lot of the rest of the supporting cast. Maddi Utti and her team-leading 8.0 rebounds per contest and 12 points per night are gone. Aly Gamez, Kendyll Kinzer, and Delaney Bree are some of the role players missing. Can Fresno State mount a challenge for the league with the Cavinder twins as the main and possibly sole threats? It would be tough, but I have to consider them a contender because of the sisters still being around.

UNLV

Head coach: Lindy La Rocque (2nd season)

2020-21 record: 15-9 (13-5 in Mountain West)

Conference finish: 2nd

Lindy La Rocque won Mountain West Coach of the Year last season for leading UNLV to a second-place regular season finish as a first-year head coach. What will she do in her second campaign?

At La Rocque’s disposal will be Desi-Rae Young and Nia Johnson, her top-two scorers in 2020-21. Young was Mountain West Freshman of the Year, quickly becoming one of the brightest posts in the league, while Johnson was one of the most potent offensive players in the MW.

But she won’t have Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Bailey Thomas, nor will Delaynie Brown, the team’s best three-point shooter from a season ago and scorer of 11.9 points per game, be available.

There are tons of new faces on this team, and some of them will have to step up in a big way for UNLV to be back in the race for the league’s championship. I wouldn’t count out the Rebels, though. You have to consider them to at least be a contender, even with the departures.

Wyoming

Head coach: Gerald Mattinson (3rd season)

2020-21 record: 14-10 (8-8 in Mountain West)

Conference finish: 7th

Frustratingly, Wyoming has not uploaded its 2021-22 women’s basketball roster to its website yet, which means I don’t know exactly who will be on the team with 100 percent certainty. But here goes nothing anyway…

Wyoming was one of the stingiest team in the league last season, giving up a Mountain West-best 57.83 points per game, and Quinn Weidemann, a junior on last year’s team and a member of the conference’s All-Defensive Team in 2020-21, will be an important piece of the puzzle if Wyoming is to retain its Mountain West tournament title.

McKinley Bradshaw and Alba Sanchez Ramos are both back to join with Weidemann to create one of the more formidable backcourts in Mountain West women’s basketball. I do have some concerns about how the Cowgirls will stack up in the paint, which keeps me from considering them a favorite, but I think this team is looking like at least a contender in the preseason.

Stuck in Purgatory: Boise State, San Diego State, San Jose State

Boise State

Head coach: Gordy Presnell (17th season)

2020-21 record: 14-9 (10-8 in Mountain West)

Conference finish: 6th

Boise State’s top-three scorers from a season ago have all moved on, including Jade Loville and her 17.1 points per game. She is one of three key starts who have departed, including Mallory McGwire and Alexis Mark. Top distributor Mary Kay Naro is still in Boise, so the Broncos will have someone to share the rock. But who will score?

There will have to be some big evolutions in multiple players’ games for the Broncos to be a contender for the Mountain West in 2021-22, let alone to win the league.

San Diego State

Head coach: Stacie Terry-Hutson (9th season)

2020-21 record: 7-17 (5-12 in Mountain West)

Conference finish: 8th

Nearly everyone from a season ago is back for the 2021-22 season, sans second-leading scorer Tea Adams, which puts the Aztecs in a position to improve on their poor record and placement from a year ago. It will take some improvements, though, especially on the offensive end.

San Diego State was dead last in the Mountain West in scoring offense, only mustering a little more than 60 points per game, and rebounding a struggle, too. With so much coming back, you have to hope the team improves in those crucial areas. Mercedes Staples and Sophia Ramos will need to carry the brunt of the scoring, and Staples, Kamaria Gipson, and Kim Villalobos have to become more productive on the glass.

With so much of last season’s roster returning, you have to think the Aztecs will do better than in 2020-21. But enough to be a contender? That would be quite the turnaround.

San Jose State

Head coach: Jamie Craighead (9th season)

2020-21 record: 2-2 (1-2 in Mountain West)

Conference finish: 11th

It was a catastrophic campaign for San Jose State in 2020-21. The team only played four total games before opting out of the season, which is even worse than playing a full year and being terrible.

So much of this team is different from last season, and there wasn’t even really a last season. San Jose State has five incoming transfers and four incoming freshmen with just five players returning from the previous roster. With so much turnover and so little to go on from 2020-21, it’s tough to make a strong prediction for this team either way.

The Basement: Air Force, Utah State

Air Force

Head coach: Chris Gobrecht (7th season)

2020-21 record: 8-18 (4-14 in Mountain West)

Conference finish: 9th

Air Force’s top-two scorers from last season – Riley Snyder (15.8 ppg) and Briana Autrey-Thompson (11.9 ppg) – are back, but three of the five regular starters on a team that simply wasn’t very good are gone. So while we could see a bump in production for Snyder and Autrey-Thompson, Air Force will need some secondary players to step up in a big way to contend at all in this league.

The Falcons weren’t good offensively or defensively in 2021-22, and it’s hard to see that changing in a big way. There’s a good chance another below-.500 season is upcoming.

Utah State

Head coach: Kayla Ard (2nd season)

2020-21 record: 4-20 (2-16 in Mountain West)

Conference finish: 10th

Utah State didn’t finish 11th by default because San Jose State dropped out of the season, meaning the Aggies were the de facto bottom dweller of 2020-21 Mountain West women’s basketball. Escaping that dungeon won’t be easy in 2021-22.

Some of the better players from last season are gone, and though a bevy of transfers have been added to the squad, I’m not convinced there’s enough here for the Aggies to get out from the basement of the league.

2021-22 Mountain West Women’s Basketball Players to Watch

Haley Cavinder – Guard – Junior – Fresno State

When the conference’s Player of the Year is back for a junior season, you have to include them as a player to watch.

Haley Cavinder tore up the Mountain West in 2020-21, and there’s no reason to think she won’t do it again, maybe even better this time with another year under her belt. If you want to know one player in this league to keep an eye on, she’s it.

LaTascya Duff – Guard – Senior – New Mexico

I could have put a few UNM players on this list, but I’m going with LaTascya Duff.

As the Sixth Person of the Year last season, Duff was nearly the team’s leading scorer with 14.9 points per night with the fourth-most minutes of anyone on the squad. She shot 40 percent from deep and 44.5 percent from the field, illustrating her ability to score from various spots on the floor.

With a presumably even larger role, it’s time for Duff to put her stamp on the Mountain West.

Desi-Rae Young – Center – Sophomore – UNLV

Last year’s Freshman of the Year is back for a sophomore campaign that should be even better than the last, or at least UNLV is hoping so. Desi-Rae Young was one of the best post players in the league in 2020-21, and it should be the same in 2021-22.

With 12.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game as a freshman, Young is a legitimate threat to average a double-double or close to it as a sophomore. Her contributions for the Rebels will make a huge difference in whether or not they can win a conference title this year, and with Delaynie Byrne and her 31 blocks moving on, the opportunity for Young to improve as a rim protector is there for the taking.

2021-22 Men’s & Women’s College Basketball Conference Previews

Learn more about the upcoming 2021-22 men’s and women’s college basketball seasons with Nothing But Nylon’s extensive conference previews, with a new conference covered every week before the campaign tips off in November.

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