And One: Chris Starr, Nevada’s keystone star

Chris Starr. (photo courtesy Nevada athletics)
Chris Starr. (photo courtesy Nevada athletics) /

Nevada’s never had another like her.

When you look through a program’s record book for single-game highs, you’ll see the number, the player’s name, and the date of the game. When you look in the University of Nevada books at field goals made in a game, at one point you’ll see “15”, the name Chris Starr, and the phrase “several times.”

Several times Chris Starr made 15 field goals in a game.

It’s probably redundant at this point to say Starr was an elite scorer, but despite playing for a struggling Wolf Pack program, she consistently found a way to put points on the board.

Out of Oregon, the six-foot Starr was a standout center at Sacred Heart of Klamath Falls, averaging 24 points and 14 rebounds and leading her team to the Oregon state A championship game. She was recruited by Oregon and Oregon State, both successful programs in the early 1980s, but she was drawn academically to the University of Nevada, so she ultimately made her way to Reno to play college ball.

The Wolf Pack were coming off a 12-15 season under Julie Hickey, and Starr made an immediate impact as a starting freshman forward. She averaged 21.8 points and 10.4 rebounds in her first season, shooting 56.7% from the field and an astounding 89.0% from the free throw line.

But the pinnacle of her freshman season came in a game on February 8, 1983, against Sacramento State, when she went 21 of 33 from the field and made all 11 of her free throws for a total of 53 points, an NCAA Division I record at the time and still a Nevada single-game record.

The mark has been passed nationally several times since, but it is still the second-best mark by a freshman; only Elena Delle Donne did better, scoring 54 points in a game against James Madison in her first year at Delaware.

More from History

Despite Starr’s contributions, Nevada struggled to win, finishing the season 8-18 and ending Hickey’s time as head coach.

The summer following her freshman year, Starr competed for the West Team in the National Sports Festival (also called the U.S. Olympic Festival) alongside many of the best college players out of California and finishing second out of the four teams.

Playing with and against many of the country’s best basketball players likely had a major impact coming in to her sophomore season.

Chuck Ayers took over as head coach in Reno, and the team’s offense picked up considerably behind even increased production from Starr. The Wolf Pack averaged 72.8 points per game, still their second best scoring season of all time, and Starr increased her average by by nearly four points a game up to 25.6.

Her free throw percentage fell to a still respectable 82.9%, but her efficiency from the field improved to 62.1%, and she had her best rebounding season (and the best in the history of the program) with 11.5 per game.

Though she was best on the offensive side of the floor, Starr was no slouch defensively. In her sophomore season, she had 56 blocks.

Her percentage from the line went down, but she maintained her status as one of the best, setting an NCAA record with a perfect 18 of 18 performance from the charity stripe in a game against San Diego on January 3, 1984. That still stands as a top-10 mark today.

She once again got the chance to compete nationally when she was invited to try out for the 1984 U.S. National Team. Though she didn’t make the final roster, the recognition highlights the level of her abilities.

Unfortunately, the end of her sophomore season meant another coaching change for Starr and the Wolf Pack. Prior to the 1984-1985 season, Anne Hope was brought in as head coach. Hope came over from the College of St. Francis in Illinois, where she compiled a 100-44 record over five years. As the new women’s athletics director and women’s basketball coach, she had the unenviable task of turning around the Nevada program.

Starr admitted before her senior year that at this time she did consider transferring, but she chose to stick with her team and finished out her career under her third head coach in as many years.

Her junior year was much the same for the team, finishing 9-15. But Starr’s production was still top-notch: she averaged 23.7 points per game off of 58.2% from the field and 83.4% from the free throw line. She averaged near double digits in rebounds with 9.2 per game.

As an individual, Starr was honored as an American Women’s Sports Federation (AWSF) All-American in her penultimate season.

At this point in her NCAA career, it’s easy to try to project her senior year: another losing season despite monstrous statistics from their star forward. But the 1985-1986 saw a major turnaround.

Chris Starr. (photo courtesy Nevada athletics)
Chris Starr. (photo courtesy Nevada athletics) /

That year was the best scoring season in University of Nevada history, with an average of 73.0 points per game as a team on the way to a 17-8 finish overall and 7-5 in the West Coast Athletic Conference.

That was the program’s first winning season and included a then program-best five consecutive in January 1986.

Starr led the way with 22.1 points per game on a career-high 64.6% shooting from the field. Somehow, her numbers from the free throw line went up to a staggering 92.3% over the season.

Though the Wolf Pack fell short of a postseason tournament, Starr finished a successful career with another AWSF All-America nod in addition to being named an Academic All-American.

Starr left Nevada with her name all over the record books, most notably with 2,356 points, best in Wolf Pack women’s basketball history to this day by over 400 points and more than any Nevada men’s basketball player for over two decades.

She started all of her 101 career games and still holds a number of program records. Her 948 rebounds are the most in program history, as is her 594 free throws and 86.5% shooting from the line.

She has three of the top six scoring games in Nevada history, and beyond her 53-point game, she also scored 37 twice. She also put up three 20-rebound games.

As far as season averages go, she has four of the five best seasons in Wolf Pack history as far as scoring average, field goal percentage, and free throw percentage are concerned. On top of that, she has three of the 10 best rebounding seasons.

Entering the 2018-2019 season, her 23.3-point scoring average is still 20th in NCAA Division I history for women’s basketball, and her 53-point game is still fourteenth-best.

As Starr approached her final game, her coach encapsulated the impact of Starr on the court, telling reporters, “You can’t replace Chris Starr with one player.”

She has been honored for that multiple times since. In 1999 the Reno Gazette-Journal named Starr one of the top 20 Nevada Athletes of the Century, and in 2007 she was enshrined as the first women’s basketball player in the University of Nevada Athletics Hall of Fame.

Most recently, Starr has served as the Director of Intramural Sports at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, continuing to make an impact on the world of sport.

No Wolf Pack player has made quite the same mark as Chris Starr since, but coach Anne Hope predicted that over 20 years ago. As she put it when talking about her outgoing senior star, “There’ll never be another Chris Starr.”