Lady Rebels strive for postseason run

After winning 22 games and earning their first postseason bid since 2006, the resurgent Lady Rebels already consider this season a success.

But they're far from satisfied.

"I don't think we're the type of team that should just make it to the postseason, because I think we're better than that," senior forward Jamie Smith said. "We need to make an impact. We could potentially win it all, or at least make a really good run so that we're proud of what we did in this postseason."

After UNLV (22-9) had its NCAA Tournament hopes crushed in an upset loss to New Mexico in the Mountain West Conference tournament quarterfinals, the Lady Rebels meet Saint Mary's (21-10) at 7 p.m. today at Moraga, Calif., in the first round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament.

"I really want to win this first game because it's huge for the team, for the program and for the community," coach Kathy Olivier said. "The community was 100 percent behind us down the stretch. People were fired up about the Lady Rebels.

"We haven't been to the postseason in a long time and this would be a huge victory for us in lots of ways."

The Lady Rebels advanced to the postseason a school-record six straight years from 2001 to 2006, when they suffered their second consecutive first-round loss in the WNIT. But they haven't been back to the postseason since, until now.

"I just want to win, regardless if we play in the NIT or NCAA," said junior Kelli Thompson, who leads UNLV in scoring with 13.7 points per game. "We have a good chance of winning this thing."

The Gaels, who finished fourth in the West Coast Conference, are making their third straight WNIT appearance. They lost first-round home games to UNR last year and to Utah two years ago.

Saint Mary's features three double-digit scorers in guards Jasmine Smith (15 points per game), Jackie Nared (12.9) -- who scored 26 in an 83-78 WCC tournament semifinal loss to Gonzaga -- and Alex Carbonel (10.3).

"They're good. They play very aggressive. They come down and gun," Olivier said. "They've got a lot of shooters and they're very physical."

In addition to owning the top rebounding margin in the WNIT, at plus-9.5, Saint Mary's also owns one of the top Ratings Percentage Index rankings at 51. UNLV, which went 5-4 against NCAA Tournament teams, is 122.

"At this point in time, every team is good," she said. "It's just a matter of who wants it more."

The winner of today's game will meet the Oregon State-UC Davis winner either Saturday, Sunday or Monday.

Thompson said her main motivation is to send the team's four seniors -- Smith, Lenita Sanford, Sandrine Nzeukou and Markiell Styles -- out in style.

"To win for our seniors -- that means the most to me -- and to get this program where it deserves to be," she said.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at or 702-383-0354.