March 12, 2018
LAS VEGAS (UNLVRebels.com) -
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After claiming its first-ever Mountain West regular season championship, the UNLV women's basketball team is back in the postseason for a second straight year as it received the MW's auto-bid to the Women's NIT and will open play in the first round Thursday, March 15 in Salt Lake City, Utah against the Utah Utes of the Pac-12 conference. This is the first meeting between the former conference rivals since the 2010-11 season. The game will tip off at 6 pm, while ticket information for Thursday's game will be announced later this week.
The Lady Rebels will bring a 19-11 record into the tournament, and set a new school record with 14 Mountain West victories (14-4 overall) to finish in a tie for first place in the conference standings with Boise State. UNLV played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation this season, as its 11-game slate, ranked No. 23 in strength of schedule, included six games against teams that are playing in this year's NCAA Tournament. Four of the six teams earned at-large bids (Minnesota, Syracuse, Buffalo and Stanford). The Lady Rebels claimed two wins over teams in this year's NCAA field, a road win at Gonzaga as well as a win over Boise State, the MW Tournament champion.
The Lady Rebels will be making their 11th all-time appearance in the WNIT. All-time they are 9-12 in the event, and turned in their best WNIT finish in 2004, winning four games to reach the championship game before falling at Creighton in the finals. In last year's tournament, UNLV dropped a first road contest at Colorado by a 66-62 margin. This is the second straight time and fourth overall the Lady Rebels will play a Pac-12 squad in the WNIT. They first fell at Oregon State in the 2003 first round, before winning a home contest over Arizona State in the 2004 first round. It also marks the fifth straight time UNLV will play its first round game in the WNIT on the road.
Utah is 17-13 on the season, and posted an 8-10 record in the Pac-12. The Utes have lost their last three games, though all three were away from home, with two road games and a first-round loss in the Pac-12 Tournament to Colorado. Thursday's contest will be the first in 13 days for the Utes, who are 10-6 on their home floor this season, including 7-0 against non-conference opponents.
The Utes hold the all-time series between the two by a 29-14 margin. UNLV is just 3-14 against the Utes in the Huntsman Center, with the last win coming on Jan. 16, 2010, when current assistant coach Mia Bell hit the game-winning three-pointer in the final 30 seconds for a 54-49 Lady Rebel victory.
The winner of Thursday's game will take on the winner of the Kansas State-Saint Louis matchup in the second round at a time and location to be determined after both games are completed, and will be played between March 17-20.
The WNIT features 64 teams in a single-elimination format, with all games hosted by participating schools at on-campus sites. The championship game will be held on March 31 and will be televised live by CBS Sports Network.