Coming off a Mountain West women’s basketball tournament championship, Boise State was the preseason favorite to win the conference regular-season title this season.
But after a 77-54 victory Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center, UNLV is in sole possession of first place in the Mountain West for the first time in program history.
The Lady Rebels, who began the game on an 8-0 run and never trailed, have won eight of their past nine.
“We came out with a lot of intensity, worked hard 40 minutes and never took our foot off the pedal,” UNLV coach Kathy Olivier said. “Boise’s a very good team, and I thought our defense just really kind of led the way to some good offense, too.”
The Lady Rebels (13-8, 8-2 Mountain West) hit 29 of 51 shots (56.9 percent), with Nikki Wheatley going 8 of 10.
“I’ve been trying to get up extra shots because I don’t really like my field-goal percentage overall this conference,” Wheatley said. “I didn’t think it was as high as it could be, so just taking better shots is what I focused on today, not rushing stuff and really getting to the rim, because that’s what I’m good at.”
Katie Powell led UNLV with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Wheatley and Brooke Johnson scored 19 apiece.
“We have so many weapons on this team, so if it’s not Nikki, it’s Brooke,” Olivier said. “If it’s not Brooke, it’s Katie. If it’s not Katie, it’s Paris (Strawther).”
UNLV lost 69-60 at Boise State in its Mountain West opener in late December. The Lady Rebels were outrebounded 33-31, so they made that a point of emphasis and outrebounded the Broncos 36-24 on Saturday.
The Broncos (13-9, 7-4) shot 54 percent on 3-pointers in the first game but 8 of 29 on Saturday.
“They hit a lot of threes last time around. They were 12-for-22 from three, so we really stressed the importance of hard closeouts,” Olivier said.
Wheatley missed the first Boise game because of an injury, and said she picked up a few things watching that night.
“A couple times we would get rebounds and slowly bring it up,” she said. “They like teams to set up and play slow, so that’s something I got frustrated with when I was watching on the bench. I was like, ‘You guys push it down their throat,’ and I was able to do that.”