The first two seasons for senior center Rodjanae Wade were difficult.
She signed with UNLV expecting to be an integral part of the rotation, but found herself as a role player off the bench.
Coach Kathy Olivier talked several times with the frustrated Wade, who decided to stick it out rather than enter the NCAA transfer portal. She became a much larger part of the game plan last season and was named Mountain West Sixth Player of the Year, the first player in school history to capture that honor.
This season Wade has taken the next step. She’s averaging a double-double (14.1 points, 10.1 rebounds) for a Lady Rebels team that, after a slow start, has won seven of its past nine games. UNLV (10-10, 6-3 in the MW) next plays Colorado State at 3 p.m. Saturday at Cox Pavilion.
Her numbers are even better in conference play — averages of 16.8 points and 12.0 rebounds.
“We knew she was a great athlete, but she had to learn a lot about basketball,” Olivier said.
Even when playing behind other post players, Olivier said Wade “was very open to learning.” As a result, she improved rapidly.
“We would always say, ‘She’s going to be so good,’” Olivier said. “Now she’s so explosive, and her athletic ability is what makes her really, really good. Now she knows the game so much better.”
Wade’s 12 double-doubles this season was tied for seventh nationally entering Thursday’s games. That total is tied for 14th in UNLV’s record book, with the potential of moving considerably higher. Linda Frohlich’s 20 double-doubles in the 1999-2000 season is the record.
“I’m leaving a mark at this school,” Wade said. “It’s really exciting because it makes me want to do much more.”
Wade uses her 6-foot-2-inch height to advantage, and she is third nationally with 4.6 rebounds per game.
But it’s not all about the physical dominance. Olivier was just as excited to talk about how far Wade has come at the free throw line.
Wade is making 72.7 percent of her free throws, including 77.1 percent in Mountain West play, after converting 63.4 percent last season.
What’s more, Wade has taken 48 free throws in conference games, double the next highest number on the team. As Olivier said, in a conference ruled by parity with so many games going down to the final minutes, Wade’s ability to pick up so many points at the line has been a crucial part of the team’s improved play.
“I can’t get over game after game getting the numbers she’s getting,” Olivier said. “We also know she can be even better, which is crazy.”
It’s been quite a turnaround for the Lady Rebels, who at one point were 3-8 with losses to Southern Utah, Elon and Grand Canyon. But they’ve also beaten St. John’s and South Florida, two teams with RPI rankings in the top 100.
The Lady Rebels believe they are capable of making a strong run in the second half of conference play and then the league tournament.
“Coming into the new year, we knew what kind of team we could be,” Wade said. “That was the turning point for us.”