When choosing which school to attend out of Centennial High School, Bailey Thomas knew she wanted to go where she could major in forensic science.
West Virginia was the ideal choice, a university that gives students an idea of what to expect in the professional world by having them study crime scenes.
For Thomas, what the Mountaineers offered was a little too real. West Virginia has four fake crime scene homes, complete with pretend bullet holes and blood.
“It scared me,” Thomas said. “There was a dummy on the ground, and it scared me. If I was scared of a fake one, I couldn’t do a real one.”
So she knew forensics was out as a career choice, and the next step would be to find another college and another basketball program. UNLV coach Kathy Olivier was recruiting Thomas’ younger sister, Jade, a junior at Centennial who has since committed to the Lady Rebels.
It made sense to return to Las Vegas.
“KO talked to my dad, and my dad called me and said, ‘They want you. Do you want it?’” Thomas said. “I said, ‘Yes, yes, I do.’
“I felt like I was missing out on my siblings growing up at big family events, and I wanted to come back closer at least. I got really close.”
Olivier knows the Thomas family well. She also recruited Thomas’ other sister, Samantha, who is at Arizona and was part of last season’s Pac-12 Conference all-freshman team.
In Thomas, the Lady Rebels (8-15, 6-6 MW) have one of the Mountain West’s best defensive players as they prepare to play San Jose State (2-20, 1-10) at 3 p.m. Saturday at Cox Pavilion.
Thomas, a 5-foot-9-inch sophomore guard, showed what she could do in her first start Dec. 6 at Duke.
“I was very nervous because it’s Duke,” said Thomas, who has played in all 23 games and averages 2.5 points in 23.7 minutes a game. “They’ve got the big stadium and everything. It was on TV (ACC Network Extra). I was very nervous. I didn’t want to let my team down, I think that was the biggest thing.”
Olivier put Thomas on the Blue Devils’ Haley Gorecki, who was averaging 17.1 points. Gorecki took only three shots in the first half, making one. She finished with 12 points on 3-of-8 shooting.
“When we had a lot of injuries, we knew Bailey could provide something for us,” Olivier said. “We put her on one of their best scorers, and she did a great job. She chased her the entire game. She was great off staggers. She was great on ball.
“From then on, we called Bailey our defensive stopper. She loved that role, and it worked for her.”
In back-to-back games last week, Thomas again stood out defensively. She held Boise State’s Riley Lupfer, who averages 12.0 points, to 0-for-8 shooting.
Three days later, Thomas shut down Fresno State’s Candice White, the conference’s leading scorer at 19.0 points per game. She was held to two points through three quarters, with the one basket coming when UNLV was in a zone. Then in the fourth quarter, Thomas took a seat on the bench, and White quickly scored five points.
Back came Thomas.
“She’s taken pride in (defense), and the team knows that’s what she’s going to do,” Olivier said. “When she goes on somebody, they do not score.”
Who: San Jose State women at UNLV
When: 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Cox Pavilion
TV/Radio: MW Network (stream); UNLVRebels.com