UNLV Lady Rebels dominate Southern Utah, 79-44

November 14, 2015

Las Vegas, Nevada -- The UNLV Lady Rebels officially got their 2015-2016 season underway on Saturday night with a convincing 79-44 win over the visiting Southern Utah Thunderbirds. For the second straight game, the Rebels jumped out to a very sizable lead, dominating the opposition from the opening tip.

Dakota Gonzalez was instrumental in the victory, pacing the Rebels with 21 points overall.

“I thought that this game, we definitely did a better job maintaining the lead, not giving in to being a little fatigued," said Rebels coach Kathy Olivier.  "Defensively, we’re just getting after it. Defensively, we’re disrupting teams, we’re getting in the passing lanes. That extra effort goes a long way.”

In the first quarter, it was Dakota Gonzalez’s aggressiveness that would lead the way.  The more heralded of the popular Gonzalez twins -- so popular that hip-hop star Drake and his entourage took in the game at the Thomas and Mack Center as the twins' guest -- showed her poise and assertiveness in keying an early run. Fellow guard Brooke Johnson also contributed, breaking down the defense and dishing to teammates for wide open looks on more than one occasion.

Sophomore guard Nikki Wheatley continued to impress, showing her Eric Bledsoe-like athleticism in skying above several Southern Utah frontcourt players for an offensive rebound and putback that put the Rebels up, 17-6.

After some unselfish overpassing led to a shot clock violation, the Lady Rebels were more decisive with their execution a possession later when Wheatley again soared above several larger players to snatch a defensive rebound and whip it ahead to Dakota Gonzalez.  Dakota would then find twin sister Dylan for a tough spinning lay-in to increase the lead to 19-8.

It was Wheatley later who once again made things happen in transition, as the dynamo swiftly switched the team from the defensive to the offensive end by creating her own shot and converting a contested layup to increase the lead to 21-8. A pinpoint outlet pass to Dakota Gonzalez for another layup would put the Rebels up 23-8 at the end of the first quarter.

It was Johnson who got things going to start the second quarter, putting in a pair of close ones that gave UNLV a 19-point cushion at 27-8.  Wheatley then was able to penetrate and dish again to an open Dakota Gonzalez, who converted from the corner to put UNLV up 30-8.

Unfortunately for the Thunderbirds faithful in attendance, the lead would continue to grow, as freshman phenom and Las Vegas-product Paris Strawther again showed her impressive range in nailing a trifecta three minutes into the quarter.

"I feel like I’m here for a reason, and Coach trusts me for a reason, so I don’t want to let her down and I have to have that confidence in myself to produce for the team,” said Strawther.

Moments later, Strawther cut to an open space in front of the basket and was the beneficiary of a nice drive and dish by Johnson, who showed her vision with a nice delivery which Strawther converted into a left-handed layup.

Dylan Gonzalez soon began aggressively probing the defense in transition, and the results were surely pleasing for coach Olivier, who pumped her fist in approval when Dylan proved true on a tough lefty lay-in that put UNLV up, 39-15.

Amie Callaway joined in the fun moments later, as she also converted a nice left-handed layup over the defense to put the Lady Rebels up 47-17 at the half.

For the half, the Rebels disruptive defense was a force, holding Southern Utah to just 19.4% on an anemic 6-31 from the field, while shooting a more than respectable 45.5% themselves over the first two quarters.

“With us what really gets us going is our defense," said Dakota Gonzalez. "With our defense we just really get up the line, we were really aggressive, just really active and able to score early off of our defense so I think that’s what really gets us going, is our defensive intensity.”

UNLV did not show any complacency to start the third quarter, as the Lady Rebels were still surprisingly aggressive.

Wheatley again used her ever-active hands to get things going, tallying her second theft of a third quarter that was just two minutes old, while Dakota Gonzalez also continued to show confidence by nailing an open three from the wing in transition.

“Coming into this game, we knew that we had to be able to put those four quarters together," said Dakota Gonzalez.  "I think that that experience with our first (preseason) game definitely helped us to work on our mistakes and understand that we do have to put those four quarters together to keep that lead.”

Perhaps the only thing that went wrong for UNLV on the evening occurred with 1:26 to go in the quarter when Dakota Gonzalez drove the lane and stepped on a defender’s foot, painfully rolling her ankle.  The two-guard would state after the game that she did not expect to miss any significant time from the injury.

Thunderbirds point guard Breanu Reid was the only Southern Utah player to reach double figures, recording 18 points in the blowout loss.

UNLV's next game will be at home against Pepperdine on Tuesday, November 17, 2015.
By Kweku Turkson
Staff Reporter for TheDailySportsHerald.com

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