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Lady Rebels make strides in loss

Coach Kathy Olivier was smiling after her UNLV women's basketball team nearly upset New Mexico on Saturday.

The expression wasn't forced.

Though the Lobos' 63-54 victory at the Cox Pavilion dropped the Lady Rebels to 0-2 in the Mountain West Conference, the veteran coach -- in her second season rebuilding the program -- saw enough improvement to stay upbeat about her young team.

"They are working hard and staying together," Olivier said. "We're not a good team right now. We're an average team, but we want to become a great team."

The Lady Rebels (7-9) rallied from a nine-point deficit to take a 40-39 lead on a 3-pointer by junior guard Erica Helms, who led UNLV with 17 points and five assists. But the Lobos (9-5, 1-1) regained control and pulled away in the final two minutes, when junior forward Jessica Kielpinski scored seven of her 18 points.

"Our effort was there, but there were a few stretches when we didn't execute as well as we should have," said Helms, part of UNLV's all-underclassman starting five. "We are a young team, but don't use that as an excuse."

Olivier noted Helms' improved ball handling as one reason for her optimism. In the past two games, Helms has 11 assists and no turnovers.

"Last year, she turned the ball over all the time," Olivier said. "She made me pull my hair out. So to see the growth in Erica is a huge positive. She has the desire and passion, and that is becoming infectious."

Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at jwolf@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247.

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