The team no one expected to last this long in the Mountain West Conference women’s basketball tournament was making one final stab at sticking around for another day.
Trailing San Diego State by 16 points in the second half, UNLV pulled together in an attempt to continue its surprising run. In the time it took the seventh-seeded Lady Rebels to put together a 15-1 run, they cut the deficit to two points with 3:19 remaining.
Did they have another stunner in them after ousting higher seeds Brigham Young and Texas Christian on the first two days of the tournament?
Not this time. UNLV’s unlikely postseason quest ended with a 71-63 loss to the second-seeded Aztecs in the MWC semifinals on Friday at the Thomas & Mack Center.
San Diego State (23-6) and top-seeded Utah (21-9) will meet at 1 p.m. today for the championship and automatic NCAA Tournament bid.
Meanwhile, the Lady Rebels (14-18) will take stock of their strides under first-year coach Kathy Olivier. They won four of their final six games, including a victory over Utah.
"I thought it was a great run at the end of the year, a great time to catch on fire," Olivier said. "I just wish it could continue on. Our run got cut short."
After defeating sixth-seeded BYU 66-58 on Tuesday and third-seeded TCU 84-75 on Wednesday, the Lady Rebels ran into a team they couldn’t beat. The Aztecs defeated them for the third time this season.
"I thought we did a good job against a very good basketball team," Olivier said of the Lady Rebels’ effort Friday.
San Diego State seemingly doesn’t know how to lose to UNLV in any sport. In the football season finale, the Aztecs ended the Rebels’ hopes of becoming bowl eligible, and San Diego State also capped a season sweep of the UNLV men’s basketball team in the MWC quarterfinals Thursday.
The Lady Rebels hurt themselves by letting the Aztecs get too far ahead and waiting too long to rally. San Diego State closed the first half with an 8-1 run to take a 32-20 lead and stretched the lead to 18 points twice, the last time at 50-32.
UNLV trailed 62-46 with 7:59 to play when it finally began coming back behind senior center Shamela Hampton, who had 29 points and 11 rebounds, and sophomore guard India Chaney.
Chaney scored seven points during a 15-1 spurt that spanned only 4:05 and lifted the Lady Rebels to within 63-61. Chaney’s steal and layup capped the uprising.
As it turned out, UNLV was at the end of its borrowed time in the tournament. The Aztecs closed the game on an 8-2 run, holding the Lady Rebels to only a Hampton layup.
"That’s kind of what we’ve done all year," Olivier said. "The momentum swings are huge with this team. We felt good. I think just down the stretch, that last 1:30, nothing went our way."
Said Hampton: "I was going to try to carry this team and lead them on my back."
Chaney finished with 13 points, and Jamie Smith had nine points and 10 rebounds for UNLV. Guard Jene Morris led the Aztecs with 27 points.
• Utah 56, New Mexico 55 — Guard Morgan Warburton’s drive and short jumper with 2.7 seconds remaining lifted the Utes over fourth-seeded New Mexico (22-10).
The Lobos had a chance to extend a one-point lead, but Amy Beggin missed two free throws with 12.2 seconds left, creating the opportunity for Warburton’s winning play.
Forward Kalee Whipple led Utah with 14 points. Beggin had 16 for New Mexico.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914.Audio slideshow
SAN DIEGO STATE – 71
UNLV – 63
KEY: The Lady Rebels ran out of steam after making a 15-1 run to pull within 63-61 with 3:20 remaining.