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Lady Rebels Beat Falcons, 55-42 Advancing to Mountain West Quarterfinals

By Barbara Farkas
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Timing can make or break a team’s season.

Luckily, the Lady Rebels are riding a wave of momentum as they entered the opening round of the Mountain West Tournament where they took on Air Force.

The sixth-seeded Lady Rebels entered the Thomas & Mack on Monday enduring a woeful shooting night, however, that didn’t stop them from defeating the Falcons 55-42 to advance to the quarterfinals to take on third-seeded Boise State.  

Three Lady Rebels finished the game in double-figures, led by senior center Aley Rohde’s seventh double-double with 13 points and 10 boards. Sophomore guards Brooke Johnson and Dakota Gonzalez each scored 11 and 14, respectively.

“We looked like a team that didn’t want to have their season over,” head coach Kathy Olivier said. “I thought our senior leadership with Aley Rohde, she was very, very determined. And then Dakota, Brooke stepping up. We had a lot of weapons, and we’ve got to continue to be aggressive. Our aggressiveness has really done a great job for us.”

It was a slow start as Rohde and Dakota Gonzalez combined for UNLV’s 11 points in the first quarter of play. The open looks were there for the Lady Rebels but their shots just weren’t falling. The start of the second quarter, the Falcons came out strong, hitting a trey and jumper in the opening minutes to give Air Force a 4-point lead. The two teams continued to battle back-and-forth before key reserve players Paris Strawther and Dylan Gonzalez contributed 11 points off the bench to give the Rebs a 26-23 halftime lead.

Scoring droughts plagued both teams but the Lady Rebels were able to get some separation in the third quarter by shooting free throws. UNLV only attempted two 3s but neither shot fell so the Lady Rebels relied on their guards to drive, pick up the foul and get to the line. The sophomore guard trio of Johnson, Dakota Gonzalez and Nikki Wheatley went 5-of-7 at the line for 71.4 percent. The quarter was capped off by an 9-0 fueled by Dakota Gonzalez’s seven points and a Wheatley layup to give the Lady Rebels a nine-point late in the quarter.

Senior Air Force guard Sarah Cantu gave UNLV problems last time their team traveled to the Cox Pavilion scoring a game-high 25 points off the bench on February 17 hitting a couple crucial treys to keep the Falcons in the contest. Cantu hit a layup to cut the lead back to seven entering the fourth quarter and ended up contributing just five points by the end of the game.

“I don’t think their record shows their talent,” Rohde said. “They have shooters. They have defenders. Like, they have weapons in every position on the court and I don’t think that truly their record reflects how difficult of a team they are to play.”

The Lady Rebels would hit a few shots early in the fourth quarter but the Falcons shot back, cutting the lead to five before UNLV took control and dominated the rest of the game. The Lady Rebels continued to press and force miscues by the Falcons, capitalizing and scoring 11 points off of 15 turnovers. UNLV made great hustle plays down the stretch, grabbing 50/50 balls and took advantage of Air Force being in foul trouble. Johnson hit a late trey to give UNLV an 11-point lead and a pair of free throws by Rohde let the Lady Rebels coast to the final buzzer.

“I think this tournament is a fresh start for everybody,” Dakota Gonzalez said. “We put those records aside when we step on the court. With Air Force it was that same mentality of just understanding that this is a team that wants it as badly as we do, and who is going to push and work hardest to strive for that win. And we’re fortunate to stay together and get the win and pull it out at the end of the game.

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