As a freshman reserve, UNLV shooting guard Danielle Miller’s role was to be a defensive stopper. As a sophomore starter, she was expected to help carry the scoring load for the Lady Rebels.
This season, Miller is being counted on as a stopper, scorer and leader.
One of four team captains for UNLV (9-12, 6-3 Mountain West) — which hosts first-place Colorado State (16-4, 8-1) at 7 p.m. today at Cox Pavilion — the fiery junior mostly leads with her voice.
“She’s not shy about speaking up and saying things others might be embarrassed to say,” Lady Rebels coach Kathy Olivier said. “She’ll call you out in a minute. You know exactly where Danielle stands.
“Dani brings passion and fire to the team. She’s feisty.”
Miller, a former San Diego prep player of the year, has embraced her leadership role.
“Given an opportunity, I’ve always taken it and ran with it,” she said. “The reason I’ve been able to be a vocal leader is I know my teammates respect me as a player.
“I appreciate a person being honest with me.”
An aggressive player on both ends of the court, Miller always guards the opposition’s best perimeter player on defense while attacking the basket on offense.
Miller is second on the team in scoring (13.0 points per game) and steals (1.76) and leads UNLV in free throws attempted (113) and made (78), shooting 69 percent from the line.
“I’m letting my defense generate my offense,” she said. “I’ve always had the driving, attacking aspect to my game.”
Miller also has added a jump shot to her offensive arsenal and has 3-point range.
“I take the shots given to me if I’m open,” she said. “I really worked on my outside shot this summer. My 3-point shot and jump shot has opened up my driving game.”
Olivier said Miller’s offseason work has paid off.
“Her shot’s more consistent, and she’s making better decisions this year,” she said. “She’s fun to coach because she has so much passion.”
Miller said her fiery attitude comes from her time at San Diego’s Mount Miguel High School, which has produced a plethora of Division I college players.
“We were a hard-nosed, defensive team,” she said. “We took pride in our defense. You have to be a tough player to play for my high school team.”
Miller’s younger sister, 16-year-old Brooklyn, is a junior starter for Mount Miguel.
“She’s just as good as me. She can go to college,” Miller said. “I have to always be a role model for her. She comes to our games with my mom and dad when she can. I feel like she watches every little move I make.”
Miller and the rest of the Lady Rebels will have to bring their best moves in today’s game to upset the red-hot Rams, who have won five straight games and 12 of 13.
“It will be a really tough game. I like that we’re at home, though,” Olivier said. “If we play together and play hard, good things happen. That’s what our motto’s been, and Danielle has a lot to do with that.”
UNLV was 3-10 and coming off a lopsided loss at Fresno State in its Mountain West opener when Miller helped the Lady Rebels turn their season around.
She scored a career-high 24 points and led a late charge in a comeback win at Air Force on Jan. 4 that started a season-high five-game win streak by UNLV.
The Lady Rebels have since lost two of three, in lopsided fashion, to Fresno State and Boise State, but Miller still thinks UNLV can shut down the league’s top teams down the stretch.
“If our defense is better than their offense that day, then we’ll get the ‘W,’ ” she said. “We can win the conference. There are a lot of good teams, but I really believe we can do it. I have it in my heart.
“Defense is the key. We’re not a team that’s going to score 90 points every night. We need to take pride in our defense and stop other teams.”
■ NOTE — Tickets are $2 for those who wear pink to today’s Play 4Kay breast cancer awareness game. Children 12 and under are free. The Kay Yow Cancer Fund initiative is named for the former North Carolina State coach who died from breast cancer in 2009.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.