Lady Rebels can’t match Wolverines, lose in first round of NCAA Tournament
For a second straight season, the UNLV Lady Rebels suffered a loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament as the program’s tournament winless streak was extended to 32 years.
Michigan beat UNLV, 71-59, Friday March 17 from the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on the campus of LSU in the Greenville 2 bracket of the NCAA Tournament. The team’s last tournament win came back in 1991 while the Wolverines advance to play the winner of LSU and Hawaii.
“We expected to win today,” head coach Lindy La Rocque said. “I think that was the biggest thing, we expected to win.”
UNLV’s season ends with a 31-3 record, the most wins in program history. The loss in the opening round of the Big Dance also ends the second-longest active win streak in the country at 22 straight victories. It’s the first loss for the Lady Rebel program in 89 days.
“We have great families on our team that support not just their daughters but the whole team,” La Rocque said. “[We had] a great collective of fans that traveled across the country and they were loud. We heard them and it just means a lot. There was a good amount of red in there.”
La Rocque now has a 0-5 record against Power-5 schools as a head coach.
“We’re here,” she said. “Last year, it was like, ‘Well, is it going to be a one-hit wonder and are we going to be able to get back here’ and here we are. Again, we’re knocking on the door. So we’ve got enough talent in our locker room to do this again and more.”
A scoring drought in the latter half of the third quarter proved costly for UNLV as the team fell behind by double-digits and was never able to recover.
After once having its lead cut to three points, Michigan went on a 7-0 run while pushing the gap back to 12 points. That run was stretched to 12-0 as UNLV went without a point for almost five minutes while building a lead as large as 17 points.
Even with the drought, the Lady Rebels were only outscored by three points by the Wolverines. In fact, UNLV held Michigan scoreless for more than four minutes in the second quarter as well, limiting the Big 10 program to one field goal of eight and a half minutes of the 10-minute session.
“They’re a really good team,” La Rocque said. “Obviously, they’ve been here before but so have we.”
UNLV used a 7-1 run to carve its way back into the game after a made three-pointer from senior guard Justice Ethridge capped the stretch. Ethridge ended the game with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting including the first four points of the game for her team.
“I don’t think [the Michigan’s guards length bothered us] to be honest,” La Rocque said. “I thought our guards – Justice got the rim a couple of times. I thought we had great looks – I mean, man, that first quarter – a couple of shots, we had wipe-open looks. [Senior guard Essence Booker] had great pullups, the same pullups she’s had all year.”
Booker led the team in scoring, pouring in 16 points on 7-of-21 from the field to go along with a team-high four assists.
Ethridge, Booker and senior center Keyana Wilfred have all played their final games with the Lady Rebels.
“[They’ve meant] everything, frankly,” La Rocque said. “Those three will forever be etched on my heart.”
Junior center Desi-Rae Young was limited in the first half after picking up two fouls in the first quarter. She would go the entire first half without a single made field goal.
Young’s first made field goal of the game came at the 8:16-mark of the third quarter. She finished with 11 points on 5-of-12 from the floor while hauling in eight rebounds.
At one point late in the third quarter, Young stayed down after taking a hard foul during a fast break layup attempt.
“[The Wolverines] had some big bodies,” La Rocque said. “And they’d bring them in one after another, after another. She didn’t walk down the court once without getting hit. That takes a toll on a player and when you can bring two and three and four of them off the bench to keep doing that to one player, that’s what happens.”
As a team, UNLV was held to 38% shooting from the field including a 28%-clip from three-point range. Michigan shot 44% and 40% on the other end of the floor.
The Wolverines won the rebounding battle by 10.
“They’re big and physical,” La Rocque said. “I think they obviously keyed in on Desi. Post play is a big part of their game so it wasn’t something that they hadn’t done.”