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Fresno State women oust UNLV in Mountain West tournament opener

Updated March 11, 2019 - 8:36 pm

Fresno State frustrated UNLV with a fullcourt press and zone on the defensive end and repeatedly found its way to the basket offensively.

Turnover. Layup. Turnover. Layup.

Fresno State used that combination Monday to beat the Lady Rebels 66-55 in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West women’s basketball tournament.

The fourth-seeded Bulldogs (19-11) next play No. 1 Boise State at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Thomas & Mack Center. No. 5 UNLV, which shared the conference regular-season championship just a year ago with the Broncos, ended its season at 12-18.

“We have six seniors on this team, and they’ve been great,” UNLV coach Kathy Olivier said. “We had a great run with them. The last three years, we won over 20 games each season. We were super proud of that. Just to finish like this, it’s a downer. We had a lot of expectations this season, and we had a lot of injuries that kind of held us back, but they never stopped fighting.”

Fresno State’s path to victory was clear, using the press to take valuable seconds off the play clock and then settle into a zone once in the halfcourt set.

The tactic worked especially well the first three quarters, with UNLV committing 20 giveaways and getting outscored 19-3 on points off turnovers. The Lady Rebels committed just two turnovers in the fourth quarter, but they entered that final period trailing 53-37.

“We felt like we were prepared coming in for the press,” said UNLV point guard Nikki Wheatley, who had seven points and six assists. “We definitely know they do it. They do it every game. We felt we made some lazy passes, and we weren’t executing like we should have.”

Fresno State also owned the inside, outscoring UNLV 38-16 in the lane, making 14 of 16 layups. They outscored the Lady Rebels 16-4 on fastbreak points.

It’s why the Bulldogs survived making just 4 of 21 3-pointers. They shot 63.9 percent on 2-point shots.

Even so, the Lady Rebels spent much of the game hanging around.

Fresno State hit them with an early 13-point run, a 6:40 stretch in which the Lady Rebels committed seven turnovers. But UNLV came back to within three, only to give up a nine-point run. UNLV got to within four late in the first half, but a buzzer-beating jumper by Candice White, who scored a team-high 17 points, ignited another nine-point run.

“That’s what hurt us,” Wheatley said of constantly being in catch-up mode. “I think getting down put a down mood on everything. Having to constantly catch up definitely makes it hard. But I do think we made a run at the end, so that was good.”

UNLV got to within 62-53 with 1:42 left after trailing by as many as 18 points, but it was too large a deficit.

“It’s frustrating, but in a game, you’ve got to keep your head up, wait for the next play,” said Katie Powell, who led UNLV with 17 points. “I feel like we did that, and we just fell a little short.”

Contact Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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