After adding 11 victories to their win total and finishing a surprising second in the Mountain West, UNLV coach Kathy Olivier said her Lady Rebels accomplished “some amazing things this year.”
Winning a Mountain West Tournament game won’t be one of them.
The No. 2 seeded Lady Rebels (22-9) blew a nine-point lead in the final eight minutes to hot-shooting No. 7 seed New Mexico (10-19) and dropped a 61-58 decision to the Lobos on Thursday night in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Tournament.
UNLV was outscored 16-3 down the stretch after guard Kelli Thompson’s long 3-pointer increased the Lady Rebels’ lead to 54-45 with 8:03 to go.
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But New Mexico made up ground in a hurry, connecting on four consecutive 3-point tries, the final one by forward Caroline Durbin that gave the Lobos a 57-55 lead with 4:52 to go.
“It kind of took the wind out of our sail a little bit,” Olivier said of New Mexico’s 3-point onslaught.
UNLV came back to tie it, 57-57, on a basket by center Lenita Sanford with 3:59 remaining but that would be the only field goal in the final eight minutes for the Lady Rebels.
Guard Jordan Erskine hit two free throws – her only points of the game – for what proved to be the game-winning points with 2:27 to go. The Lady Rebels scored just one free throw from point guard Mia Bell in the final 3:59.
Thompson, who finished with a team-high 16 points, had a chance to force overtime with a 3-point attempt from the left side of the key with six seconds left but missed. Bell (12 points, 4 rebounds) then failed to connect on an off-balanced trey at the buzzer.
“I was praying it would do down,” Thompson said of her last shot. “It didn’t go my way. … I had a good look, I put everything into it, it just didn’t fall.”
New Mexico connected on 8 of 14 3-pointers (57.1 percent) while UNLV was just 2 of 12 (16.7 percent) beyond the arc.
“I’m not surprised,” Thompson said of the early tourney exit. “More upset. It’s tournament time. It’s anybody’s game.”
The Lady Rebels now will keep their fingers crossed and hope for an invite from the NIT.
“Hopefully the NIT won’t over look us,” Olivier said. “We have 22 wins. We had great wins early, beat Iowa at Iowa, beat Kansas State at home. Those are big-time BCS conferences.”