Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010 | 9:39 p.m.
Freshman guard Kelli Thompson proved Saturday that her age is not indicative of her skills.
The Compton, Calif., native posted 20 points and grabbed eight boards to help the Lady Rebels defeat Air Force 69-55 at home on Senior Night, breaking the team’s three-game losing streak.
“We’ve lost our last three (games), so we had no choice but to come in and play like we wanted to play,” Thompson said. “We practiced really hard these past few days. It was just one big flow.”
Thompson hit her first 3-pointer four minutes into the game to give UNLV a 5-point advantage over Air Force. She followed it up with layups, a steal and consistent defense throughout the first half.
At the 8:11 mark, Thompson perfected her own form of the Shake ‘n Bake and drove between two defenders for an easy layup. Heading back to the defensive end, she then knocked a ball out of bounds to prevent Air Force from scoring. The Rebels led at halftime 38-36.
Head coach Kathy Olivier said she was impressed by Thompson’s performance.
“I think Kelli Thompson was everywhere,” she said. “Kelli Thompson played so aggressively defensively, (and) it generated our offense.”
But Thompson wasn’t the only Lady Rebel showcasing talent.
Seniors Allison Holiday and forward Latoya Hunt started the game with friends and family watching in the stands. It was apparent from the beginning that the two were not going home without a victory.
As soon as the whistle sounded at tip-off, Hunt helped UNLV gain possession and keep it with four blocks and six points. Holiday had three steals and five assists throughout the game.
“Allison and Latoya just started off with great energy, and I thought the whole team followed their lead and played well and hard,” Olivier said.
Sophomore center Markiell Styles also scored 12 points and had four rebounds.
With only one more game left before the Mountain West Conference Tournament, sophomore Jamie Smith said Saturday’s win was a momentous occasion for the seniors.
“It’s definitely a special game because we’re honoring two of our seniors,” Smith said. “One has been here for five and the other four (years), so coming into this game we really wanted to win it for them, because it’s their last time to play on this floor.”
Smith scored 17 points and had 14 rebounds for another double-double. She said she enjoyed the game because the seniors had more of a chance to display their talents on the court.
“It’s great to be able to play, relax a little bit and give Latoya a chance to shoot a three in a game,” Smith said. “It was a fun win because we played hard in the beginning and we didn’t have to come back from a lot of points behind, so it’s a different type of game and I liked it.”
Coming into the game, however, was a different feeling for Smith, who was worried about her family in Hawaii after a tsunami hit Saturday. The state escaped any major damage.
Olivier said Smith was upset before the game and asked one of the team managers to hold her cell phone in case something happened.
“I talked to her mom this morning and they were evacuating and Jamie was shaking,” Olivier said. “Her mom said to me, ‘We’re fine. The family is all together and moving to higher ground. Tell Jamie to do what she needs to do, which is win the game.’ Her mom brought it back to basketball, and I thought that was very interesting.”
The upset over Air Force puts UNLV at 13-16 for the season and 6-9 in the Mountain West Conference. The Lady Rebels will face University of Wyoming at 1 p.m. on March 6 in the last game before the conference tournament.
Olivier said Wyoming has a lot of good shooters who could be a threat for the Lady Rebels.
Smith said the team will spend the next week preparing for them.
“(We’re going to) prepare really hard and go into the game with this mentality,” Smith said. “Hopefully we can steal the win from them.”