In UNLV’s lone meeting this season against Colorado State, the team accomplished one of its main goals at the start of the season: Winning the regular season conference title.
The Lady Rebels downed the Rams, 80-69, Saturday, Feb. 26 to clinch the Mountain West regular season title outright.
“Just really proud of our group,” head coach Lindy La Rocque said. “To take a second and know what this game means for our program and these young women. It’s really cool, it’s really cool.
“We set some goals in the beginning of the year and for the most part we don’t talk about them – we just get to work. That’s the idea so that you wake up in March or whenever that is and you’re going to be closer and that’s how we’ve approached it.”
It’s the program’s first outright conference title since the 1989-90 season. Furthermore, it’s the first Mountain West regular season title in program history.
“It takes a village,” La Rocque said. “Being born and raised in Las Vegas, being a Rebel since I knew what a Rebel was – it’s really special because our community deserves this and we want to make them proud.”
The conference’s best team sports a 23-5 overall record with a 15-2 Mountain West-mark.
More importantly, the program has now won 17 of its last 19 attempts after having a season-long 12-game win streak snapped in its last outing.
Additionally, UNLV is now 10-3 on the road and 19-3 away from Las Vegas under La Rocque.
“After not our best performance against Wyoming, I think our team took the challenge and the message to continue to work and be better and improve,” La Rocque said. “It’s never good to lose or fun to lose but maybe it was kind of the reset, wake up call that we needed, especially going into March. I’d much rather lose in February than March.”
For the regular season finale, the team will return home for a rivalry game. “The Reno game is one that we don’t have to talk too much about with our team,” La Rocque said. “If there’s any perfect game to have at the perfect time – if you’re not motivated to play in that game then you might be in cardiac arrest because your heart stopped.”
UNLV will host UNR Wednesday, March 2 with tipoff scheduled for 6 p.m.
Late in January, the Lady Rebels beat the Wolf Pack by three points up in Reno.
A five-point halftime deficit was wiped away after a 44-28 second half showing by UNLV.
“I feel like we don’t always come out as strong,” sophomore center Desi-Rae Young said. “But as soon as we know we have to work harder at the half, we come out and beat them in the second half and we just keep our foot on the gas the whole time.”
Less than midway through the third quarter, the Lady Rebels would work back to tie the game at 47 apiece. The game only had two games of the game with that one being the last.
Later in the third, UNLV would snatch its first lead of the game since leading 14-13 in the first quarter.
“We were tired at first,” Young admitted. “But once we got our second wind it was like, ‘Alright, we’ve got to attack the basket, we’ve got to get more shots.’”
Freshman point guard Kiara Jackson scored 16 of her team-high 19 points in the second half, highlighted by nine in the third quarter.
“First, it starts with how [the Rams] played defense and what they’re willing to give up,” La Rocque said. “Her number was called and I don’t think anyone on our team is surprised because she gives us the business in practice.
“We’re just happy that someone else took her beating for once. I think it just goes to show what she’s capable of, we all know it, we believe it.”
Jackson shot 8-of-16 from the field with three made three-pointers to reach her 19 points. As a team, UNLV’s bench outscored Colorado State’s bench, 26-6.
Her effort helped the Lady Rebels take a 10-point lead into halftime. Before the end of the contest, the Lady Rebels built a lead as large as 13 points.
Colorado State once led by as many as 10 points.
Junior guard Essence Booker chipped in with 17 points on 5-of-6 shooting to go along with four rebounds and three assists.
After the game, she gave a glimpse into what practice can look like when her and Jackson go at it.
“It’s intense,” Booker said. “I guess everyday I can say I got better and it’s because of her. Not even scout-wise, she challenges me everyday and as a freshman. I remember when I was a freshman, I didn’t come in with that kind of mentality.”
Four UNLV players reached double-figures with senior guard Justice Ethridge becoming the third guard to do so.
Ethridge scored 13 points but struggled shooting 5-of-17 from the floor as she reeled in nine rebounds in the process.
Her shooting performance included 2-of-9 from three where UNLV as a team took a season-high 28 attempts, 19 of which came in the first half.
The team’s previous season-high was 24 attempts on two separate occasions.
“I think that was just part of our adjustments,” La Rocque said. “We knew with [the Rams’] style of defense, they were going to make someone shoot an abnormal amount of shots, that’s what they do.”
The Lady Rebels made nine of their 28 attempts while the Rams connected on 10 of their 28 tries.
Young was the fourth Lady Rebel in double-figures with 16 points and a team-high 11 rebounds.
“Coach Lindy was on us about getting our rebounds up,” Young said. “So we were trying to attack the glass. Just do what we do, the basics.” UNLV won the rebounding battle, 49-33.
Senior forward Khayla Rooks swallowed up 10 rebounds while putting up five points and two assists.