The UNLV Lady Rebels avoided disaster on the road and a second straight loss, upending Hawaii at Hilo in the process.
A +11 fourth quarter saw UNLV escape the first of two games in Hawaii, 77-74, Wednesday, Dec. 7.
“I never thought we’d play the way we have in the first half in both of these games [to start this road trip],” associate head coach Roman Owen said. “Internally, our group’s got to get together and figure out how to get ready.
“Not much has changed in our preparation and how we do things. I think maybe just a little bit more attention to detail in our preparation and being on them about it.”
Head coach Lindy La Rocque did not travel with the team but will be back before the team’s next contest against Hawaii.
UNLV (8-1) will meet the Hawaii Rainbow Wahine (1-6) Sunday, Dec. 11 from SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m.
According to Owen, avoiding another sluggish start is at the top of everyone’s to-do list.
“We’ve got some really good leadership,” he said. “Desi, she knows it. Essence, she knows it. Justice [Ethridge] is a senior and Keyana [Wilfred] is a senior so they’re invested. I think these guys know it has to be a little bit more about the will to prepare to win than it is just the will to win.”
UNLV went into the fourth quarter facing an eight-point deficit but was lifted by sophomores Alyssa Brown and Alyssa Durazo-Frescas.
Brown knocked down a three-pointer more than halfway through the fourth quarter to trim the Hilo lead to three. Durazo-Frescas followed suit to tie the game at 68 apiece.
“I kept telling [Brown] and kept telling Frescas to, ‘Get your feet set, Desi will find you,” Owen said. “Lindy does a great job of making sure everybody in the program is valued. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Player of the Year in Desi for us, we need her just as much as Keyana Wilfred battling Desi in the post at practice.”
Brown also completed an and-one basket plus the free throw to knot the game at 71 moments later. She also was responsible for a three-pointer to cut it to six in the third quarter before a free throw trimmed it to six.
By the end of the contest, Brown recorded her first collegiate double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds. She started for junior forward Nneka Obiazor.
Immediately after tying the game at 71 apiece, UNLV’s defense locked in, forcing Hilo into a shot clock violation.
Down 12 points at half, Owen and company opted to turn up their group’s defensive pressure in the second half.
“The staff got together and just said, 'They're shooting it way too easy and we weren’t guarding enough man-to-man in the halfcourt,’” Owen said. “So we went to a full-court press into a matchup zone. How we operate in it depends on where the ball is.”
When it came time for the big buckets, the Lady Rebels went to their veteran leaders in senior guard Essence Booker and junior center Desi-Rae Young.
Booker drained the jumper to put UNLV ahead, 73-71. That marked the team’s first lead since 7-6 in the first quarter.
Young followed her up with a putback basket the next trip down the floor to put the Lady Rebels up four.
Needing one final play to seal the victory, assistant coach Mia Bell drew up a play that left Young wide open under the basket for the game-sealing finish.
“Mia does a tremendous job with our special situations,” Owen said. “She’s got a great attention to detail. We knew right when the play presented itself, I wanted to make sure that we got it in the right person’s hands.
“We really wanted to look at Essence popping off that back screen for Desi. You could tell right away they were going to double [Essence] and deny that [...] We told her, ‘If you get into trouble, throw it up to Desi. She’ll go get the basketball.’”
Booker and Young scored the first nine points for UNLV. It wasn’t until the 2:44-mark of the first quarter that someone else other than those two scored for the team.
“They wanted to pack the paint in for sure,” Owen said. “They made sure they had somebody covering E and they were going to dare us to hit shots.”
Booker finished with 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting to go along with six assists and four rebounds. Young led all scorers with 24 points on 9-of-17 from the field coupled with nine rebounds.