#MWMadness: UNLV Beats Air Force for 21st Straight Time in Las Vegas, Advances to Face Boise State
By W.G. Ramirez
Special to TheMW.com
LAS VEGAS - The UNLV Lady Rebels came into the 2016 Mountain West Women's Basketball Championship riding a 20-game win streak against Air Force in Las Vegas.
That didn't mean their matchup with the Falcons was going to be an easy one.
And for the third time this season, Air Force left everything on the floor against the Lady Rebels, before sixth-seeded UNLV made it 21 straight victories in Las Vegas against the 11th-seeded Falcons, winning 55-42 to advance to the quarterfinals.
"They fight for our country, they're not going to give up on the court either," said UNLV senior center Aley Rohde, who finished with a double-double, scoring 13 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. "I don't think their record shows their talent. They have shooters. They have defenders. They have weapons in every position on the court and I don't think that truly their record reflects how difficult of a team they are to play."
UNLV, which will meet third-seeded Boise State in Tuesday's nightcap at 8:30 p.m., also got double-digit performances from sophomores Dakota Gonzalez (14) and Brooke Johnson (11).
The momentum in the game finally swung in UNLV's favor, when Rohde took a pass from freshman Jordyn Bell and went up strong for an easy lay-in, drew a foul and then completed the three-point play to push UNLV ahead by eight, 48-40, with five minutes left in the game.
It was a pivotal point in the game, as the Falcons were on an 8-4 run. Air Force's disciplined play caused the Lady Rebels to play a bit erratic, as they began making unforced errors and looking a bit rattled.
"Air Force lives by the motto 'never give up' and they give their all in every single game they play," said Johnson, who closed the regular season averaging nearly 20 points per game (19.7) over the last four games. "They've been close with many teams. And I think it shows every time they step on the court. Offensively, defensively, they're going to go hard and give it their all."
But after Rohde's three-point play, the Lady Rebels flipped a switch and used their patented defensive pressure on the ball, while pushing an up-tempo pace at the other end.
"We have a lot of weapons right now and that's a good feeling from a coach's standpoint and good for the players," UNLV coach Kathy Olivier said. "It's finally that time of the year where everyone trusts each other, we're moving the ball better.
"We liked how aggressive we were. We were very aggressive tonight. That's why we got on the boards, why we got to the free throw line. We've got to continue that."
With 3:20 left in the game, Rohde hit the front end of two free throws, and the team's only other senior, Amie Callaway, came down with a key rebound to give UNLV a fresh shot clock before Dakota Gonzalez hit one of two free throws to give the Lady Rebels a 10-point advantage, 50-40.
After the Falcons' Cheyenne Wall hit a jumper moments later, Johnson iced the game with a 3-pointer that extended the Lady Rebels' lead, 53-42.
"It was an electric atmosphere for us on the court," Gonzalez said. "And I think toward the end, we really showed that as far as not giving up and staying together and letting our defense focus and toughness kind of push and lead the way at the end."
The Falcons were led by Dee Bennett, who scored 11 points and snatched five rebounds, while Cortney Porter chipped in nine points and also had five rebounds.
"Obviously ... we came to win the game," said Air Force coach Chris Gobrecht, whose Falcons had just one win on the year. "You have to learn a little bit about us, we don't care about records, we came to win the game, so we're very disappointed."
Air Force showed resiliency early in the game, as it only trailed 11-10 after one quarter, and 26-23 at the half.
The Falcons actually jumped out in front of UNLV early in the second quarter, as Bennett's short jumper put Air Force ahead, 15-11. Johnson answered back with jumper of her own, and a minute later it was UNLV freshman Paris Strawther burying a 3-pointer from the top of the key to put the Lady Rebels back in front, 16-15.
A strong put back by Strawther and a 3-pointer by Dylan Gonzalez helped seize momentum and keep the Lady Rebels in front for the rest of the half.
Willie Ramirez is a Las Vegas-based freelance reporter and Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter: @WillieGRamirez