October 29, 2023
2023-24 Mountain West Conference preview
UNLV and Young looking to repeat; Colorado State's Hofschild is Preseason Player of the Year
The Mountain West Conference found itself back in the national conversation last season, with UNLV elevating to No. 21 in the AP poll. The Lady Rebels dominated the league, going 18-0, with a 22-game winning streak through the end of the conference tournament. It was the first time a MWC team had been ranked since Colorado State in 2016.
Unfortunately, the ranking and perfect conference record didn’t translate when it came time for the selection committee to seed UNLV in the NCAA Tournament. The Lady Rebels got a No. 11 seed and lost in the first round to Michigan.
In 2023-24, Colorado State returns MWC Player of the Year McKenna Hofschild to make a run at UNLV and its double-double machine, Desi-Rae Young. Allyson Fertig of Wyoming and Abby Muse of Boise State will also be players to keep an eye on during the league’s 25th anniversary season.
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Here is a look at each team ahead of the season tipping off. You can click the links below to skip to specific teams.
Air Force Falcons
2022-23 record: 13-18, 8-10 MWC
Head coach: Chris Gobrecht (ninth season with AFA, 43rd overall)
Key games: at Houston Nov. 10, vs. Army Nov. 17, vs. Washington Nov. 25 in Honolulu, vs. Colorado Dec. 2, at Clemson Dec. 19, at SMU Dec. 21
The Falcons boast seven freshmen this season, the most in the MWC. They also will face the most Power Five opponents in the league. Junior Madison Smith returns as the leading scorer with 12.8 points per game. The team graduated Kamri Heath, whose numbers were just below Smith’s, but coming back is junior guard Jo Huntimer, who had a team-high 4.2 assists and 2.3 steals per game.
Nearly half of Air Force’s games in 2022-23 were decided by two possessions or less.
Gobrecht trails only Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer (44) among active coaches in number of seasons coached.
Boise State Broncos
2022-23 record: 17-16, 11-7
Head coach: Gordy Presnell (19th season with BSU, 37th overall)
Key games: vs. Rutgers in Las Vegas on Nov. 25, at BYU Dec. 9
Muse, the reigning MWC Defensive Player of the Year, returns to anchor the Broncos’ frontcourt. The 6’3 senior ranked second in the MWC with 8.3 rebounds per game to accompany her 9.1 points per game. In total, Boise State’s 6.4 blocks per game were by far highest in the MWC.
Colorado State Rams
2022-23 record: 20-12, 12-6
Head coach: Ryun Williams (11th season at CSU)
Key games: at UTEP Nov. 30, at Montana Dec. 9, vs. Mississippi State Dec. 20
The best news for the Rams is the return of Hofschild as a graduate student. The 5’2 guard led the league with 21.7 points per game en route to winning MWC Player of The Year. Recently named the MVC Preseason Player of the Year and to the Nancy Lieberman Award watch list, Hofschild’s 7.2 assists per game last season were nearly three more than her next-closest competitor in the MWC. She ranked fifth in Division I in assists and second in assist-to-turnover ratio, making her the first Ram since Hall-of-Famer Becky Hammon to be an Associated Press All-American (honorable mention).
In addition, guard Jackie Carman was voted the MWC Preseason Newcomer of the Year. Carman scored 15 points per game for Wofford last season, which ranked fifth in the Southern Conference.
The Rams’ nonconference schedule is rather weak before Mississippi State comes to Fort Collins in December.
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Fresno State Bulldogs
2022-23 record: 10-22, 3-15
Head coach: Jaime White (10th season)
Key games: vs. Long Beach State Nov. 21, vs. Sacramento State Dec. 16, at Arizona State Dec. 20
The Bulldogs added Mia Jacobs from La Salle, as well as junior college transfers Bineta Diatta and Deajanae Harvey. Jacobs was an All-Atlantic-10 Rookie Team member after averaging 9.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, while Harvey’s 22 points per game made her a junior college All-American.
Nevada Wolf Pack
2022-23 record: 10-21, 6-12
Head coach: Amanda Levens (seventh season)
Key games: vs. Oregon on Nov. 21; at Cal Dec. 9; Western Kentucky and BYU Dec. 20-21 in Springfield, Missouri
Nevada’s balanced starting five each averaged between 10.7 and 9.3 points per game in 2022-23. Leading scorer Alyssa Jimenez (10.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game) transferred to Florida Gulf Coast, and highly decorated academic honoree and medical student Megan Ormiston (9.3 points per game) graduated. But Nevada returns its second-, third- and fourth- leading scorers in Lexie Givens (10.5 points per game), Audrey Roden (10.5) and Victoria Davis (9.4).
New Mexico Lobos
2022-23 record: 21-13, 12-6
Head coach: Mike Bradbury (eighth season)
Key games: vs. Georgia Tech on Nov. 24 in Cancun, at Gonzaga Dec. 30
The Lobos were the top 3-point shooting team in the league (36%) in 2022-23. This was much to the credit of the departed LaTascya Duff and her sister LaTora. The twins combined for more than 24 points per game as seniors last season.
Junior guard Viane Cumber is the team’s top returning scorer with 9.2 points per game, and junior forward Paula Reus contributed 8.0 points per game. UNM brought in guard Nyah Wilson from Syracuse, where she mostly came off the bench, as well as five freshmen.
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San Diego State Aztecs
2022-23 record: 23-11, 12-6
Head coach: Stacie Terry-Hutson (11th season)
Key games: at Portland Nov. 6, at Sacramento State Nov. 18, vs. Penn Nov. 25, vs. Stanford Dec. 1
The Aztecs led the MWC in scoring defense, allowing only 59.2 points per game last year.
Returning to SDSU is Kim Villalobos, who led the team with 5.3 rebounds per game. She is also the leading returning scorer at 8.5 points per game following the departures of Sophia Ramos, Asia Avinger (transferred to Georgia), Mercedes Staples and Yummy Morris. Senior guard Abby Prohaska (7.5 points per game), who played in the 2019 Final Four with Notre Dame, also comes back for her second season at SDSU.
Trinity Zamora is the Preseason Co-Freshman of the Year after averaging 22 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and two blocks per game in her Oakland, California, high school career.
San Jose State Spartans
2022-23 record: 6-25, 3-15
Head coach: April Phillips (second season)
Key games: at Cal Nov. 24, at Hawaii Dec. 3
Junior forward Marisa Davis-Jones led the Spartans in 2022-23 with 5.9 rebounds per game and was second with 10.8 points. Leading scorer Jada Holland, who also led the league with 73 steals, is now at Grand Canyon University. Sophomore guard Sabrina Ma returns 9.0 points per game, while SJSU welcomes five freshmen.
UNLV Lady Rebels
2022-23 record: 31-3, 18-0 MWC
Head coach: Lindy La Rocque (fourth season)
Key games: vs. Arizona Dec. 2, at Oklahoma Dec. 9, at Seton Hall Dec. 16
UNLV was one of the best stories in women’s basketball in 2022-23, breaking into the national rankings for the first time since 1994. Young ranked second in the MWC with 17.9 points per game and first with 10.3 rebounds per game. Kiara Jackson is also an All-MWC preseason pick after being named the Sixth Player of the Year in 2022-23.
Amarachi Kimpson was chosen as the Preseason Co-Freshman of the Year. The guard from Little Elm, Texas, scored 22 points per game in high school. The team lost Essence Booker (12.5 points per game), who signed a pro deal in Italy and was with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury in training camp.
UNLV’s nonconference schedule is much tougher than last year’s. In 2022-23, Oklahoma State was the only major conference team on the slate and beat UNLV by 25 points in Stillwater. Pacific was the only other team that beat the Lady Rebels in the regular season.
Utah State Aggies
2022-23 record: 4-26, 1-27
Head coach: Kayla Ard (fourth season)
Key games: vs. Eastern Washington Nov. 10, at BYU Dec. 5
Little of Utah State’s roster resembles last season’s after a slew of transfers. Allyzee Verdan comes from Salt Lake Community College, Taylia Stimpson from Utah Tech, Macy Smith from Cal State Northridge, Cheyenne Stubbs from Canisius and Ivory Finley from UMass-Lowell. There are also four freshmen, including 6’5 Gracie Johnson and 6’4 Lauren Crocker.
2022-23 record: 23-11, 13-5
Head coach: Heather Ezell (second season)
Key games: vs. Nebraska Nov. 10, at Gonzaga Nov. 18, vs. BYU Nov. 28, at Oklahoma State Dec. 3, vs. Creighton Dec. 10
The Cowgirls came up just short, falling 71-60, to UNLV in the MWC championship game. Wyoming led the conference in rebounding margin. Fertig was third in the MWC in scoring (13.4 points per game) and second in rebounding (8.7), and the 6’4 junior is a preseason all-conference selection.
It will be a tough nonconference schedule, with teams from the Big Ten, Big 12 and BIG EAST all making the trek to Laramie.
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Conference outlook for 2023-24
UNLV’s tough schedule should set it up for at least an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. It would be the MWC’s first at-large bid since 2010. Should UNLV win the MWC Tournament, boast the kind of record it had last year, and play well in its meetings with Arizona and Oklahoma, a top-eight seed should be in the cards.
Colorado State and Wyoming will threaten UNLV but will need to win the conference tournament to make the NCAA Tournament, unless the Cowgirls really pound their way through their schedule.
Written by Scott Mammoser
Scott Mammoser started out covering the Niagara University women's basketball team in 2002. He went on to cover FIBA World Cups in Turkey and Spain, Under-19 World Cups in Thailand and Spain, the Asia Cup in China, as well as major international events for World Athletics and the International Skating Union. He has been to six Olympics and traveled to more than 80 countries.