PCAA Women's Tournament : UNLV Edges UCI in Title Game, 61-60 : Higashi's Missed Free Throw Helps NCAA-Bound Rebels Win

Times Staff Writer

The University of Nevada Las Vegas women's basketball team is not one-dimensional.

The Rebels proved that Sunday afternoon as they defeated UC Irvine, 61-60, in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. tournament championship game in front of 263 in Crawford Hall at Irvine.

Las Vegas' leading scorer, Misty Thomas, was injured in the Rebels' semifinal win over Hawaii Saturday night and was not able to play in Sunday's game. But that didn't stop the Rebels from winning their second tournament championship game from the Anteaters in as many years.

Irvine had cut Las Vegas' lead to one point, 61-60, when the Anteaters' Erin Higashi made the first of two free throws with one second left. However, Higashi missed the next free throw and the Rebels had the victory.

It was already known before which of the teams was going to the National Collegiate Athletic Assn.'s postseason tournament. Las Vegas (26-4) was given the invitation Sunday morning even before their game against the Anteaters was played.

Even so, the Rebels, who will face San Diego State Friday at Las Vegas in the first round of the NCAA tournament, played hard against Irvine. Las Vegas co-Coach Jim Bolla said that his team did so in order to maintain its momentum.

"We would like to keep some momentum going into the NCAA tournament, and if we didn't play well today, that kind of sets us back a little bit," Bolla said.

Irvine Coach Dean Andrea knew that his team would have to play well to beat the Rebels. The Anteaters' only two conference losses this season had been at the hands of Las Vegas, 76-59 and 78-65.

Thomas was averaging 21.0 points a game going into the tournament, but Andrea said her absence did not give his team the feeling that they would have an easy chance at an upset.

"I think if they missed Misty Thomas and maybe even another player or two, they still would match up," Andrea said.

"We're a ballclub of over-achievers. So it's a matter of being able to take advantage of certain situations like (Thomas) being injured and then trying to do something about it."

The Anteaters (21-7), led by the play of forward Dorothy Lewis, had a chance to do something about it after they cut Las Vegas' lead to 61-57 with 12 seconds remaining in the game.

Cheri Graham scored a basket to bring the Anteaters within two, 61-59 before her teammate, Jackie Vander Poel, fouled Charlotte Blair.

Blair missed the front end of her one-and-one opportunity and with one second remaining, the Rebels' Angela Christian committed her fifth foul against Higashi, sending Higashi to the free-throw line with a chance at sending the game into overtime.

The game was close in the first half, too. The Anteaters took the lead for the first time with 2:05 remaining in the first half, during which Las Vegas did not have a free-throw attempt. At halftime, Irvine was ahead, 34-30.

During the second half, the two teams exchanged the lead several times before Las Vegas finally took the lead for good with 54 seconds left on a pair of free throws by Christian.

Thomas did not say the game would have been different had she been able to play, but it was tough for her to sit on the sidelines.

"It's hard to sit here and watch when you feel you can be out there helping everybody," Thomas, the PCAA's Player of the Year, said.

Thomas, along with teammate Donya Monroe, who led the Rebels with 16 points, and Irvine's Graham were named to the all-tournament team. The Anteaters' Lewis led all scorers with 24 points and was 14 of 15 from the free-throw line.

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