For once this season, the UNLV women’s basketball team ended up on the winning side of a game decided in the final minutes.
The Lady Rebels, who had suffered a couple of losses at the buzzer, squandered a 13-point second-half lead over Colorado State on Wednesday night but held on for a 57-55 victory at Cox Pavilion in the Mountain West Conference opener for both schools.
The Rams (2-12, 0-1), who trailed 50-37, went on a 16-2 run to take a 53-52 lead with 3:02 left on two free throws by Juanise Cornell.
But UNLV (5-9, 1-0) regained the lead for good at 54-53 on two Brittany Halberg free throws with 1:51 remaining. Shamela Hampton hit two free throws with 1:29 left to give UNLV a 56-53 lead.
Colorado State had a chance to tie the game with 19 seconds left when Cornell was fouled while making a layup to pull the Rams within 56-55, but she missed the ensuing free throw. Colorado State finished 5 of 15 from the line.
Shannon Oberg hit the front end of a one-and-one to make the score 57-55, but she missed the second shot.
Sara Hunter, who led Colorado State with 11 points, drove down the court and fired a potential game-tying shot from the corner, but the ball clanged off the side of the backboard as time expired.
“We’ve been in that situation before and learned enough lessons the wrong way,” said Halberg, who made 6 of 7 free throws and finished with 12 points. “We knew it was our time, and we had to put it away. It really shouldn’t have come down to that. We built a lead and let them back in it.”
The Lady Rebels, who snapped a three-game losing streak and won their fifth straight league opener, led by 13 with 9:10 remaining, but the Rams responded with a 13-0 run to tie the score at 50.
Colorado State sank three 3-pointers in the spurt and finished 8 of 22 from 3-point range, but the poor free-throw shooting cost the Rams.
UNLV, which closed the first half on a 16-2 run to take a 28-22 lead, went 2 of 16 from 3-point range but made 17 of 19 free throws.
Hampton, who missed some clutch free throws in a loss to Liberty on Dec. 21, sank all five of her attempts Wednesday.
“I’ve been shooting 100 every day, because Coach (Regina) Miller said that’s what’s going to win games,” Hampton said. “As a leader, I want to step up and hit them at the end of the game.”
UNLV’s Sequoia Holmes, who entered 10th in the nation in scoring at 20.7 points per game, led all scorers with 13 points.
UNLV will host Air Force at 7 p.m. Saturday at Cox Pavilion.