December had been cruel to the UNLV women’s basketball team.
Five games. Five losses that came in a variety of ways that formed the core of a six-game losing streak that began on Thanksgiving weekend.
On Wednesday, with the calendar ready to turn to 2015, the Lady Rebels rallied from eight points down in the second half and held off Wyoming 58-55 at Cox Pavilion to snap the skid in the Mountain West opener for both teams.
“It’s huge for us,” said UNLV coach Kathy Olivier after her team improved to 4-8 in winning for the first time since Nov. 29. “We finally found a way to get over the hump. Now we have a chance to build some momentum.”
Senior guard Danielle Miller scored a game-high 26 points and also helped keep Wyoming’s Marquelle Dent, the conference’s leading scorer, in check. Dent, who was averaging 18.3 points, scored a season-low seven, going 2 of 13 from the field and 0 of 4 from 3-point range.
“Our overall defensive effort was great,” Olivier said. “We picked up our energy, and we wanted to make (Dent) have to grind for everything she got.”
Miller said she benefited from screens that enabled her to get open shots.
“My teammates did a great job freeing me up,” she said. “We ran a lot of picks underneath, and I was able to get open.”
The Lady Rebels started both halves slow offensively, going 0 of 7 from the floor to start the game and 1 of 8 to start the second half.
But Wyoming (5-6) had its own issues. Foul trouble limited Kayla Woodward and Kaylie Rader, the Cowgirls’ two front-line players. Wyoming also struggled with its outside shooting, finishing 4 of 26 on its 3-point tries.
Yet it was the 3-pointer that got the Cowgirls a 50-42 lead with 4:39 to play, as Woodward hit two consecutive treys and senior Jordan Sibel added a layup as part of her career-high 14-point day.
“We had the momentum at that point,” Wyoming coach Joe Legerski said. “But give Vegas credit. They got on the offensive glass and kept a couple of possessions alive and then they hit some 3s to take it from us.”
Brooke Johnson and Alana Cesarz hit back-to-back 3-pointers, then Johnson and Miller had two consecutive treys as UNLV went up 58-53 with 1:02 to play.
“Those made threes were big for us,” Olivier said. “(Wyoming) was starting to make theirs, and we found a way to answer them.”
The Cowgirls pulled within 58-55 with 23.3 seconds left and had two great looks to tie. But Dent and Woodward missed.
“We’re starting to understand it’s a long game, that there are going to be runs and you have to stay with it,” Miller said. “To hold a good team like Wyoming to 55 is a pretty good accomplishment.”
The Lady Rebels will try to start 2015 the way they ended 2014 when they travel to UNR on Jan. 7.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.