UNLV Lady Rebels defeat Alaska-Anchorage in opener, 84-75

November 10, 2015

Las Vegas, Nevada -- The UNLV Lady Rebels got their season off to an impressive start on Monday night, using a huge first half to cruise to an 84-75 win over the visiting Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves in the Rebels’ opening game of the 2015-2016 campaign.

The Rebels looked to be in midseason form as they came out of the gate strong and opened up a 20-0 lead.

Alaska-Anchorage, meanwhile, was as frigid as the winters in the Frontier, missing their first 13 shots from the field, and failing to score until just over two minutes remained in the first quarter (Note: All NCAA FCS Division games now consist of four 10 minute quarters, as opposed to two 20 minute halves).

The Rebels were paced by the tough interior defense of Amie Callaway -- who also led her team in scoring with 17 points on 8-for-12 shooting -- and Aley Rohde (15 points, 15 rebounds).  In addition, UNLV received excellent contributions from the active hands and swarming defense of guards Nikki Wheatley and Dylan Gonzalez, the latter of whom helped set the tone early with a pair of remarkably heady plays.

The first of those came when the junior and former Kansas Jayhawk transfer made a quick-witted hustle play by saving a loose ball near her own basket, and simultaneously making an outlet pass that led to an easy two in transition.

Later, it was Dylan Gonzalez again who adeptly made a ball fake, and after seeing the defender bite on the move, buried a trey right before the horn to end the opening frame, giving UNLV a startling 29-3 lead after one quarter.

The second quarter quickly became more interesting when the Seawolves went on a 12-2 run. However, their comeback bid was squashed by Dylan Gonzalez, who gave UNLV a 41-18 lead after draining the second of two spot-up threes.

“I just want to do whatever my team needs me to do," said Dylan Gonzalez, who gave her team a definite lift with 15 big points off the bench.  "Whatever my coach needs me to do. I knew today I was going to have to lockdown, play defense, and make open shots.”

Later in the second quarter, it was newcomer Paris Strawther who showed why some on the Rebels coaching staff have been raving about the athleticism and skill of their bigs. Strawther completed a string of plays in which she hit a long "J" from the top of the key, sandwiched between a pair of strong, in-close finishes off of nice feeds, to give the home squad a 54-25 advantage at the half.

The second half saw the guard combination of Nikki Wheatley, Dakota Gonzalez, and Brooke Johnson lead the way.

Dakota Gonzalez manipulated the defense beautifully before finding pivot Rohde in close for a bunny that put the Rebs up 63-34. Later, it was the mercurial Wheatley, a sophomore, weaving her way through traffic and converting a nice layup in transition. Not to be outdone by her teammates, Johnson was able to knock down a contested jumper at the buzzer to end the third quarter with UNLV up 74-52.

“I think that once we get like five, or six games under our belt, we’ll be able to eliminate the stupid mistakes,” said Wheatley about the team's potential with all the new faces.  Wheatley pulled down seven rebounds to go with her 13 points.

Much to the chagrin of Head Coach Cathy Olivier, things seemed to swing in Alaska-Anchorage’s favor in the final frame.

First, senior guard Jenna Buchanan began knocking down shots with greater regularity. Next, there was a scary moment when Callaway appeared to have her elbow hyperextended as she got tangled up awkwardly with an Anchorage player while battling for a rebound. What followed were successive turnovers -- one via an indefensible shot clock violation -- and suddenly UNLV’s lead was only thirteen points.

When Buchanan buried her ninth trifecta on the night, the lead was cut down to just eleven, at 79-68. Moments later, guard KiKi Robertson found a cutting Megan Mullins for a lay-in that cut it to 79-70.

“We just got a little complacent," said Olivier.  "I thought we did an unbelievable job in the beginning of the game, we just need to make sure that we can maintain that.”

That was as close as Alaska would get however, as UNLV’s guards ramped up the pressure, and their frontline once again exerted their will in limiting the Seawolves to poor shooting and no second chances down the stretch. A huge corner three by Dylan Gonzalez would prove to be pivotal, as the Runnin’ Rebels would close it out for an 84-75 victory to open their season.

“We had to really stay composed," said Dylan Gonzalez.  "I think it was a very good learning experience.”

By Kweku Turkson
Staff Reporter for TheDailySportsHerald.com

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