Tuesday, March 9, 2010 | 10:20 p.m.
There would be no deep run in the Mountain West Conference basketball tournament this March for the UNLV women's squad.
The Rebels rallied back from a double-digit second-half deficit Tuesday, but were limited to 29 percent shooting in falling, 60-55, to Wyoming in a first-round game at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Last year, they won two tournament games in making a surprising run to the semifinals. However, playing as the No. 7 seed again this year, they couldn't duplicate the memorable run.
But they sure made things interesting.
Showing some of the same grit and determination that sparked two upset wins last year, the Rebels rallied back from an 11-point second half deficit and evened the game at 47-all with less than four minutes to play. But they couldn't pull ahead.
"I'm disappointed that it is over," UNLV coach Kathy Olivier said. "I really enjoy coaching this team. We are young and we have good energy. We fought the whole game. I am just bummed that it is over."
They teams exchanged points down the stretch with UNLV twice forcing ties. Wyoming, however, never relinquished the lead in the final 38 minutes and beat UNLV (14-18) for the second time in four days — the Rebels closed the regular season Saturday with a 78-73 loss in Laramie.
Wyoming's Jade Kennedy buried a 3-pointer with 1:42 to play in breaking a 51-all tie and giving the Cowgirls the lead for good.
"We always talk about it being a 40-minute basketball game," Wyoming coach Joe Legerski said. "We played UNLV in the final game of the season, and it came down to the last minute of the basketball game like it did today."
UNLV only made eight first-half field goals in trailing 28-21 at halftime. Still, they weren't ready to close the books on the season.
The Rebels managed to cut their deficit to three points with 14:11 to play but were held scoreless the next six minutes as Wyoming built its lead to 44-35.
That's when UNLV went on a 12-3 run that evened the game at 47 and set the stage for the tight finish. It's the type of comeback Olivier said she would use as a building block for the future.
"I felt like we were very ready to play this game," she said. "Our team never gave up. I'm very proud of this basketball team."
While disappointed with the outcome, the second-year coach found several positives with where the program is headed.
Just take a look at Tuesday's starting lineup.
Sophomore forward Jamie Smith, an all-league honorable mention selection, had six points and a conference tournament record 18 rebounds. Smith is one of several young players — the Rebels started two freshmen and two sophomores and had just two seniors on the roster — who showed flashes of their potential.
"Rebounding is hustle," Smith said. "Our team definitely had that hustle. We fought until the end. The game didn't fall into our pocket, I guess. By out-rebounding them by how many we did shows we have a team that can fight."
Freshman Kelli Thompson had nine second-half points in leading UNLV with 15 points. Sophomore center Markiell Styles had 13 points and 13 rebounds, including six of UNLV's 24 offensive rebounds. UNLV out-rebounded Wyoming 53-34.
"It was a tough loss, but we are going to come back and not let this bring us down," Styles said. "We are going to work hard in the offseason and get better in the future."
In other Tuesday women's games, New Mexico's Sara Halasz scored a game-high 20 points in leading the No. 5-seeded Lobos to a 67-54 victory against No. 8 Colorado State.
Halasz did most of her damage on 3-pointers, connecting on four of six shots from beyond the arc. Amy Beggin added 18 points for New Mexico, which closed the game on an 11-0 run and plays No. 4 Utah on Wednesday in the quarterfinals.
Utah advanced to the quarterfinals with a 63-40 victory against ninth-seeded Air Force. Taryn Wicijowski led all scorers with 24 points for Utah, and Kalee Whipple of Pahranagat Valley High in Lincoln County added 16 points for the Utes.