As the UNLV men’s basketball program’s national profile rose over the course of the season, few people on campus took more pride than the members of the women’s team.
And the desire to be a part of the hoop buzz in town came to fruition. While the men stumbled late in conference season and enter this week’s Mountain West Conference tournament as its No. 3 seed, the women are entering their tournament on fire.
A 53-48 victory over Colorado State on Senior Night on Feb. 29 gave the Lady Rebels their fifth straight win to close out the regular season, bumping them to 22-8 overall and 10-4 in Mountain West play entering the conference tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center March 7-10.
It was the program’s first-ever top-two finish in the Mountain West. Not bad for a program that was picked before the season to finish sixth in the conference and had gone 38-56 in its first three seasons under coach Kathy Olivier.
“I love the fact that they’re thinking big,” she says. “Now we have to act big. We have to back it up by constantly coming hard, preparing for every team that’s in front of us. Making the NCAAs would be really, really big for our program.”
The program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 2002 now seems like a very real possibility. Olivier credits the turnaround to a changed culture within the program since she took over. Every player on her roster is one she and her staff brought in.
“I thought it would take two or three years, but the reality is it takes a lot of time and a lot of work by everyone involved,” she says. “The returners were just tired of losing. They made a total commitment over the summer and have all improved because of it.”