By Kweku Turkson
Las Vegas -- The UNLV Lady Rebels (14-6, 5-3 MW), behind a career-best 20 points from Dylan Gonzalez, were able to grind out a tough, closely contested win at home on Wednesday night at Cox Pavilion, handing the Wyoming Cowgirls (15-4 overall, 7-1 MW) their first loss of the season in Mountain West Conference play.
Reigning Mountain West Conference Player of the Week Liv Roberts led the way for Wyoming, pacing them with 15 points.
Gonzalez got things going early, knocking down a deep ball followed by a nice running floater in the lane, and then a contested corner three.
In fact, both of the charismatic Gonzalez twins, Dylan and Dakota, would have a hand in UNLV's strong start, as the sisters themselves outscored Wyoming 24-18 in the first half, en route to a 26-18 halftime lead. Dylan Gonzalez did not miss a shot in the first half, shooting a perfect 9-9 from the field, including 2-2 from three-point land in the game’s first 20 minutes.
“It’s a matter of confidence, it’s a matter of my coaches instilling that (confidence) in me -- to be confident to take the shot, and make the shot," said Dylan Gonzalez of her performance. "I’ve always been confident in my shot to take it, but then it’s really a next level thing to really focus in and have that confidence to be like ‘I’m gonna shoot it to make it, I’m not just gonna shoot it because I’m open.’”
UNLV would have a rough start to the second half though, as they allowed the visitors to claw back, 26-25, resulting in coach Kathy Olivier calling a timeout and heatedly talking things over with her charges.
Things actually didn’t improve much coming out of the timeout, as the Cowgirls were able to take the lead for the first time in the game off a made three-point basket.
Dylan Gonzalez restored order moments later with another nifty looking step through in the lane, giving her 18 points on the night. However, Roberts would respond, this time knocking down a straight away trey that actually pushed Wyoming’s lead to 7, at 35-28.
Wyoming continued their hot shooting throughout the entire third quarter, outscoring the Lady Rebels 19-7.
With just over three minutes gone in the fourth, Dakota Gonzalez made a shot that was equally heady and difficult, slicing the Cowgirls’ lead to a mere bucket, at 39-37. This was followed up by an impressive foray to the basket by Dylan Gonzalez that just fell out. However, she was fouled on the play, and after knocking down both free throws, the game was knotted at 39.
Moments later, Katie Powell would find a cutting Jordyn Bell, as the two wonderfully executed the classic high post-low post interior pass to perfection, giving the home team the lead once again at 41-39 with just over 5 minutes to go in the game.
"We have a great rotation with Katie (Powell), Jordyn (Bell), and Paris (Strawther) our three players in the post,” said Olivier.
With three minutes to go, Dylan Gonzalez banked in a tough jumper from the wing with the shot clock winding down, pushing the Rebels lead to 45-40. Then, with just over a minute to go, Brooke Johnson came away with a loose ball, baited the defense, and then found Powell under the basket for the layin, pushing UNLV’s lead to 47-40.
“Defensively, we were really dialed in as a team," said Olivier. "Wyoming is such a great team, if they have clean looks, they’re going to make them -- a la the third quarter, when they were hitting everything. But defensively, we really did lock down, get in the passing lanes, and it was a total team effort, it wasn’t just one player, it was the whole team buying into our defensive philosophy."
Roberts wouldn’t quit, and continued to shoot with both confidence and accuracy from beyond the arc, knocking down another trey to make it 49-46 Rebels with 13.7 on the clock.
Following a Wyoming foul, Dakota Gonzalez knocked down a pair of free throws, ending the scoring 51-46.
In addition to Dylan Gonzalez's 20 points (16 in the first half), her twin sister Dakota also poured in 16 to pace the Lady Rebels.
Despite her offensive production, Dakota Gonzalez, echoing the thoughts of her coach, noted the true key to the victory, “Down the stretch, it really just came down to defense."