Lady Rebels Picked Fifth In Preseason MW Poll|
Nov. 1, 2017
LAS VEGAS (UNLVRebels.com) - UNLV women's basketball is predicted to finish fifth in the Mountain West standings this season, as the 2017-18 Mountain West preseason poll was released by the league office Wednesday. Voting on the preseason poll, as well as the preseason all-conference team, were all 11 head coaches as well as select media members.
UNLV is bringing back four starters from last year's squad that posted a 22-11 overall record and reached the postseason for the first time since 2012 with an at-large bid to the WNIT. One of those starters is junior guard Nikki Wheatley, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in game 10 of last season, but received a medical redshirt and returns to the lineup as the starting point guard. UNLV will have to replace Dakota Gonzalez (13.2 ppg), an All-MW selection in 2016-17, along with her twin Dylan (9.9 ppg), following their graduation from UNLV this past May.
Boise State, the 2017 MW Tournament champions, is this year's preseason favorite with 221 points and seven first-place votes. Close behind in second place is Wyoming with 216 points (six first-place votes) while Colorado State, last year's regular-season champion, also received six first-place votes and 211 points overall. New Mexico just beat out the Lady Rebels for fourth place, as the Lobos received four first-place votes and 186 total points, one ahead of UNLV's 185 points (two first-place votes).
"It's very clear that it's a wide open conference race this year and obviously the voters in the poll agree with five teams receiving multiple first-place votes," said UNLV head coach Kathy Olivier. "I've always said that in the Mountain West you need to be ready to fight every night, it doesn't matter who the team is, you have to be ready for a battle. As for the Lady Rebels, we're a very focused group this year. It's a great feeling to know we have Nikki back this year, and with Brooke (Johnson) joining her in the backcourt for the ninth straight year (going back to their club days), and our depth in the post, we have a lot of options. As long as everyone steps up we should be in good shape."
Just 36 points separated the top five teams in the preseason poll, while there is a significant gap between them and the bottom six teams. Rounding out the poll is Utah State in sixth (136), Fresno State seventh (117), San Diego State eighth (102), San Jose State ninth (61), Nevada, Reno 10th (60) and Air Force 11th (29).
The Lady Rebels bring back an experienced group for the 2017-18 season, as in addition to Wheatley, three-year starter Brooke Johnson returns for her fourth year in the UNLV backcourt after averaging 12.2 points per game in 2016-17. UNLV also brings back two returning starters in the front court, juniors Paris Strawther (8.7 ppg) and Katie Powell (7.5 ppg).
Senior guard Cherise Beynon on New Mexico was named this year's Preseason Player of the Year. She was joined on the first team by Boise State's Shalen Shaw, Fresno State's Candice White, San Diego State's McKynzie Fort and Wyoming's Liv Roberts. The Preseason Freshman of the Year is New Mexico's N'Dea Flye, while Newcomer of the Year was also from New Mexico, Tesha Buck.
For the third straight year, the Lady Rebels will play the entire month of November at home with five straight games in the Cox Pavilion, starting with the season opener Nov. 10 against Portland State. Other highlights of the non-conference schedule include road games at Gonzaga (Dec. 9) and Stanford (Dec. 16), as well as home games against 2017 NCAA runner-up Mississippi State (Dec. 20) and Syracuse (Dec. 22) in the Duel In The Desert tournament. The Mountain West season starts for UNLV on Saturday, Dec. 30 with a road game at preseason favorite Boise State.
UNLV season tickets are only $65 for 16 home games for adults, and $50 for seniors and UNLV faculty/staff. For information on purchasing season tickets call 702-739-FANS or visit UNLVtickets.com. Youth 12 and under are free to all Lady Rebel games.