UNLV Lady Rebels defeat UCI, 72-52

November 22, 2015

Las Vegas, Nevada -- The UNLV Lady Rebels continued their perfect start to the season, blowing out the UC Irvine Anteaters at home, 72-52, behind a stingy defense that produced 12 steals, forced 17 turnovers, and held UCI to 26.7 percent shooting for the game.  UNLV is now 3-0 on the season.

“I think we have really good team chemistry," said UNLV Head Coach Kathy Olivier.  "Our defense started igniting our offense and we started moving the ball. When we move the ball and a lot of different people touch it, it’s just way more fun.  Then when we’re up-tempo defensively we’re active with our hands in the passing lanes and get some easy buckets, the team goes crazy."

After shuffling the starting lineup slightly in their last game, Olivier elected to return to the team's original three-guard starting five featuring guards Nikki Wheatley, Brooke Johnson, and Dakota Gonzalez, with seniors Amie Callaway and center Aley Rohde holding down the front court.

Rohde, who felt ill prior to the game, would lead the Rebels with 15 points on 7-for-9 shooting, and 6 boards.

In the early going, the Anteaters were paced by McKenzie Piper, as the junior transfer from Illinois was able to knock down a couple of midrange jumpers, despite decent defensive pressure from the Lady Rebels.

Meanwhile, Dakota Gonzalez and Callaway were doing their best to keep UNLV in the game, as Dakota converted on a pair of midrange jumpers of her own, and Callaway continued an early season trend by knocking down a straight-on three late in the shot clock.

The Rebels' guards soon began to assert themselves, as Dakota broke down the defense and drained a tough hanging runner in the lane, and moments later, Wheatley did the same, giving the Rebels the 16-10 lead.

UCI went on a mini-run of sorts to cut the deficit to just three points at the close of the quarter, 18-15.

UCI guard Irene Chavez began to find her range in the second quarter, hitting a couple of jumpers, including one from distance.  Anteater forward Mokun Fajemisin also seemed to find a rhythm as well, showing a smooth stroke in sinking an open jumper.

With slightly under three minutes to go in the opening half, it was Dylan Gonzalez who showed her rapidly improving court vision, as she spotted freshman post player Paris Strawther up ahead for a contested layin that she was able to convert.  UNLV would end the half leading 32-23.

The Rebels began to pull away in second half, as Wheatley and Rohde got things going with a pair treys.  Then Johnson made a great effort play on defense, as she hustled back and prevented an easy layup by forcing Shereen Sutherland to commit a traveling violation.

Dakota Gonzalez’s assertiveness continued to pay dividends, as she converted on a nice runner in the lane after curling off of a Jordan Bell screen to give UNLV a 45-33 lead. Gonzalez would finish with 11 points.

"The third quarter we really got ignited," said Olivier. "Nikki Wheatley came in and made some things happen. Dakota (Gonzalez) kept us in the game early. We played smarter, we got more paint points in that third quarter and played with a little more passion, and when you do that a lot of positives happen from that."

Rohde and Callaway showed why they are likely to be considered one of the most formidable forward-center tandems in the Mountain West Conference this season, producing on back-to-back possessions.  After a Callaway jumper from the top of the key, the Rebels would open up a 53-36 lead, prompting Anteaters’ head coach Doug Oliver to call a timeout.

Fajemisin slowed the bleeding slightly, converting on a short jumper in the lane, but after yet another Wheatley steal and layup the Rebels led by 19. An offensive rebound and putback by Rohde right before the third quarter buzzer would give the Rebels a 21-point advantage at 59-38.

By the fourth quarter it was clear that the Rebels' traps and constant defensive pressure were affecting the Anteaters' composure, as UCI's frustration was revealed on a few foul calls that didn’t go their way.

Rohde continued to punish the much smaller post players from UC Irvine, converting on a pair of turnaround jump hooks to give UNLV an insurmountable 24-point lead.

“I think that (our dominance in the paint) is always something that we want to do," said Rohde. "We always want to attack the basket, whether it’s with a post or with the guards, we want to get to the basket. Sometimes we do kind of fall in love with the three-point line too much.”

Fajemisin led the Anteaters with 16 points and 11 rebounds.  UCI will play Princeton on Friday, November 27, at the LMU Tournament.

UNLV next faces Cal State San Marcos at home at 7 p.m. on Monday, November 23.

By Kweku Turkson
Staff Reporter for TheDailySportsHerald.com

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