It was Brigham Young. It couldn’t be easy.
After all, UNLV twice appeared to have the Cougars beaten during the regular season, only to watch BYU escape with victories both times.
Not this time. Not in the Mountain West Conference basketball tournament. Jamie Smith wouldn’t permit it.
Smith, the league’s Freshman of the Year, scored 18 points and grabbed 15 rebounds and made a backbreaking 3-pointer with 2:20 left that helped the No. 7 seed Lady Rebels hold off No. 6 BYU 66-58 in a first-round game Tuesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“I wish she was a senior,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said.
UNLV (13-17) will face No. 3 Texas Christian (20-9) in a quarterfinal at 7 p.m. today at the T&M. TCU had a first-round bye.
“I feel like our team feels we can compete with anyone,” UNLV coach Kathy Olivier said. “If we can come in with the same kind of intensity we did tonight, I think it’s going to be a game.”
No. 4 New Mexico (21-9) will play No. 8 Colorado State (10-20) at 4:30 p.m. today. Top seeds Utah (20-9) and San Diego State (22-6) have byes until Friday’s semifinals.
UNLV’s victory was its first in the postseason since the MWC Tournament in 2006. It also was the first win by a seventh seed in the 10-year history of the conference tournament.
The Lady Rebels appeared in full control, leading 51-35 with 9:59 to play before BYU (18-11) rallied to within 58-55.
Cougars guard Jazmine Foreman then missed a layup, and Smith grabbed the rebound and on the other end made her critical 3-pointer.
“Kind of knocked the wind out of us,” said Shawnee Slade, who led BYU with 15 points.
UNLV made five free throws to ice the victory.
“It was critical to get that momentum swing,” Smith said.
She wasn’t the only Lady Rebel who came through. Senior center Shamela Hampton scored 18 points, making 10 of 12 free throws. Point guard Erica Helms added 14 points, and guard India Chaney scored 10.
Defensively, the Lady Rebels played zone nearly the entire game to hold BYU to 37 percent shooting, including 27.3 percent from the 3-point line — amazingly close to its season averages.
UNLV’s players wanted another crack at the Cougars after BYU swept them during the regular season. On Jan. 21, the Lady Rebels let a seven-point lead with 4:22 left turn into a 67-62 loss at home. On Feb. 21 at Provo, Utah, the Cougars scored with 1.7 seconds remaining to win, 53-52.
As crushing as those losses were to the Lady Rebels, they came away with confidence they could defeat BYU.
“We said, ‘We hope we play them again,’ ” Olivier said. “Our wish came true. We really stepped up to the plate with a great deal of intensity and a great deal of focus. It was a total team effort.”
In Tuesday’s other games:
• New Mexico 84, Air Force 41 — Amy Beggin made 4 of 8 3-pointers to carry the Lobos with 18 points. Jessica Kielpinski scored 13 and Angela Hartill 11.
Liz Dunsworth led ninth-seeded Air Force (4-26) with 12 points.
• Colorado State 64, Wyoming 56 — Bonnie Barbee, Zoi Simmons and Amaka Uzomah scored 11 points each for the Rams.
Hillary Carlson topped fifth-seeded Wyoming (16-14) with 17 points. Emma Langford had 16 and Megan McGuffey 13.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914.Slideshow