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Nikki Wheatley overcomes injuries, excels for Lady Rebels

Updated March 6, 2019 - 6:53 pm

After suffering a foot injury last season and knee injury two seasons ago, UNLV’s Nikki Wheatley was determined to stay on the court for her senior year.

Mission accomplished for the 5-foot-6-inch point guard, who enters her final home game having left a big mark on the women’s basketball program.

Wheatley has her name high on several career lists as the Lady Rebels (11-17, 9-8 Mountain West) prepare to host Colorado State (8-20, 2-15) at 6 p.m. Thursday at Cox Pavilion.

A UNLV victory means a first-day bye in the conference tournament, giving the Lady Rebels the No. 5 seed and pitting them against No. 4 Fresno State in the quarterfinals at 2:30 p.m. Monday at the Thomas & Mack Center. A loss to Colorado State means the sixth seed for the Lady Rebels and a rematch with the Rams in a first-round game at 7 p.m. Sunday.

Wheatley, who missed 29 games over the two previous seasons, understands the importance of taking part in senior night ceremonies, especially with so much on the line.

“It’s crazy to think about, but it’s a good moment, too,” Wheatley said. “I feel like I’ve put in my time here. I’ve obviously been here five years. It’s a bittersweet thing, but we’re obviously going to try to play our butts off and get that ‘W.’ It was really important to me to come in and be able to play the full season. I’ve had a lot of choppy seasons.”

Wheatley tore a meniscus in her left knee two years ago, causing her to miss 23 games. If she had played one more game that season, she wouldn’t have been eligible for a medical redshirt.

Last season, she didn’t play in six games because of plantar fasciitis, which is inflammation in the foot.

“It’s something that I didn’t have to deal with before,” Wheatley said of the injuries. “It was something I couldn’t think about too much. I play really fast-paced and really aggressive, so I didn’t want to take away from that. So I think that was the biggest part is when I did start to face these injuries, I didn’t want them to take away from my game.”

This season, Wheatley has remained in the lineup despite recent pain in her right knee. UNLV’s issue has been injuries elsewhere, with forwards Katie Powell (high right ankle) and Paris Strawther (broken finger on left hand) missing substantial time in nonconference play.

That put more of an onus on Wheatley to produce. She averages 11.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists while playing all 28 games.

“The thing that impresses me most is when she has been injured or gets in foul trouble, she’s the first one who’s screaming on the bench for her teammates,” coach Kathy Olivier said. “She’s the first one that’s still leading us during hard times.”

Wheatley will depart UNLV in the top 20 on several career charts. She will tie for third Thursday in starts with 117, is fifth in free throws made (377), ninth in steals (208), 11th each in rebounds (693) and assists (333) and 16th in scoring (1,312 points).

Now Wheatley’s veteran leadership also will be needed with the postseason days away.

“We can’t underestimate her experience,” Olivier said. “She’s so determined, and that’s her strength.”

More Rebels: Follow at reviewjournal.com/Rebels and @RJ_Sports on Twitter.

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

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