Saturday, Feb. 13, 2010 | 11:35 p.m.
The UNLV Lady Rebels were sporting pink jerseys and a confident swagger Saturday as they defeated San Diego State 66-59 at home during the annual Think Pink game to raise awareness for breast cancer.
“It’s a huge win,” said sophomore forward Jamie Smith, adding that the team was inspired to play for those fighting breast cancer. “We can win a game but they fought breast cancer, so it’s a little bit of motivation, too.”
Junior guard India Chaney led the Rebels with 16 points, including three back-to-back jumpers that helped UNLV take the lead in the second half.
The Rebels trailed by three with 10:47 left to play.
Dribbling the ball around San Diego State defenders, Chaney pulled up and shot a jumper, cutting the Aztecs’ lead to one, 38-37.
San Diego State guard Jene Morris retaliated with a 3-pointer from the top of the key, and Chaney hit another jumper off the glass.
Back and forth it went. Morris scored a basket and Chaney answered with another 2-pointer of her own.
“If they scored, we scored,” Chaney said. “Then we finally started getting stops, and then we kept scoring.”
With the Rebels trailing 43-41, Smith stole the ball and passed it to freshman guard Mia Bell for an easy layup that tied the score at 43.
Another basket by junior guard Erica Helms helped the Rebels take the lead with less than nine minutes left. San Diego State never led in the game again.
The game quickly turned into a contest of fouls.
Helms, Smith and Chaney all went to the free throw line in the last seconds of the game to seal the victory and break UNLV’s seven-game losing streak against the Aztecs.
“We haven’t played great at home, so it was nice for us to play great at home,” coach Kathy Olivier said. “As much as I say that, we didn’t have our best game. We won that game by grinding it out with hard work.”
The work was grueling and physical at times.
Helms took a seat on the bench in the second half after she rolled her ankle. She was examined and limped off the court.
Olivier said Helms wanted to run back in, but she made her take a seat.
Helms checked back in to the game a short time later and went right back to work by drawing two fouls and scoring one basket on each.
The Rebels concluded the game with 49 rebounds, 14 steals and 19 turnovers, seven less than the Aztecs. The Rebels also scored 22 points off San Diego State’s turnovers.
Smith said it was important for the team to break the streak and come back from a 70-41 loss to San Diego State in January.
“They’re still a quick team and score hard, but I think this game we were more prepared,” Smith said. “In the first game, we weren’t as into it and we didn’t play as hard as we should have.”
Smith led the team in rebounding with 15 boards. She also posted 14 points and had eight steals, missing her first triple double-double by two points.
“I didn’t want the first half to end,” she said. “We were on a roll and sometimes when you take a break at half time, it’s hard to get back on that roll. But I was really proud of how our team came in the second half with the roll we had in the first half.”
The Rebels were 7-of-25 on two-pointers in the first half and trailed by 16 in the first 11 minutes. A strong defensive effort, however, allowed the team to come back, and UNLV trailed by just one, 27-26, at halftime.
Olivier said the win is refreshing, but she hopes her team won’t let up during their next contest against the University of Utah.
“I don’t want to jinx us, because I feel like our team does better when they know they have to work,” Olivier said. “We can’t get fat and happy. We have to continue to work hard and improve.”
UNLV is now 12-13 on the season and 5-6 in the Mountain West Conference.
The Lady Rebels will take on Utah in the Cox Pavilion at 7 p.m. on Feb. 17.