SAN DIEGO — The San Diego State women's basketball team will not be the only one playing without an All-American candidate in tonight's NCAA Midwest Regional opener in the Thomas and Mack Center at Las Vegas.
The Aztecs' opponent, 16th-ranked Nevada Las Vegas (26-4), also will be playing without its best player, Misty Thomas.
Like SDSU's Tina Hutchinson, who underwent surgery to repair a damaged left knee on Tuesday, Thomas also underwent surgery on her left knee on Tuesday in Salt Lake City and will not be available tonight.
Thomas, a 5-foot 11-inch point guard, averaged 20 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists per game for the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. Tournament champions.
"I guess it's really a lot like what San Diego State has had to go through with Tina," Rebel Coach Jim Bolla said. "But we're still very confident. Our kids could very well have said, 'that's it,' but they've responded well."
Thomas was injured in the first half of the PCAA Tournament semifinals against Hawaii last Saturday. Without her, the Rebels beat the Rainbows, 68-49, then defeated UC Irvine, 61-60, in Sunday's final.
Charlotte Blair, Thomas' replacement, scored 16 points in the victory over Irvine and will lead the team with point guard Zina Harris.
On the front line, the Rebels have 6-2 forward Angela Christian (13.1 point per game), 6-1 forward Kathy LaVern (5.3), and 6-2 center Donya Monroe (12.1).
"We're very similar to San Diego State in that we both will run the fast break when it's there," Bolla said. "People have told me that we should try to play up-tempo against them, but we don't plan on changing anything."
Three other West Coast Athletic Assn. teams--USC, UCLA and Cal State Long Beach--will be shooting to turn next week's NCAA West Regional at Pauley Pavilion into a WCAA tournament of sorts.
USC and UCLA open NCAA tournament play tonight, with the Trojans playing host to Idaho in the Sports Arena and the Bruins traveling to Seattle to meet Washington. Cal State Long Beach plays host to Brigham Young on Saturday night.
If the three can win their first-round games, they will join the Tennessee Tech-Georgia winner in the West Regional, which begins next Thursday.
USC and Long Beach are considered favorites to advance to the second round, but UCLA will have the toughest road. The 12th-ranked Huskies (26-1) have won 21 straight games, dating back to their 75-66 loss to Long Beach in the Dial Tournament last December, and will be playing on their home court--the Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
UCLA Coach Billie Moore believes the strength of the Bruins' schedule compared to the Huskies' might work to UCLA's advantage. The Bruins have played 10 games against teams who advanced to the NCAA tournament, winning four, while the Huskies have played only one team in the 32-team field, Long Beach, and lost.
Aztec center Toni Wallace is probable tonight, but Shelda Arceneaux will get the start in the pivot. . . . The Rebels won all three games they played this season in the Thomas and Mack Center, including an 80-77 victory over Louisiana Tech on Feb. 2. . . . The winner of tonight's game will play either Louisiana Tech or Illinois State in the Midwest semifinals next weekend in Monroe, La. . . . SDSU won its first-round game in the NCAA tournament a year ago at home against Oregon. . . . UNLV lost in the first round last year to Cal State Long Beach. The 49ers then eliminated the Aztecs in the second round.