The UNLV Lady Rebels ended their non-conference slate of games with a win over the Hawaii Rainbow Wahine to improve to 8-3 on the year.
UNLV beat Hawaii, 70-63, from the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas Tuesday, Dec. 21.
“To have some close games and still win them – this is what conference is going to be like,” head coach Lindy La Rocque said. “This is how we have to challenge ourselves in the non-conference and how we like to.”
The Lady Rebels have now won five of their last six games with Mountain West play next up for the program.
“We’re going to have a stretch here where we have a lot of games – I think we play four games in 10 days,” La Rocque said. “We’ve been practicing our preparation all non-conference so the preparation piece for conference isn’t going to change.
“What is going to change is the intensity and the magnitude of each game so if anything we have to reset after every game whether we win or lose.”
Three of the team’s first four Mountain West games will come on the road, one year after the team posted a 9-0 road record.
A road trip to Fresno State is first, scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 28. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.
The final non-conference game for UNLV saw a game with seven lead changes and seven ties. In addition, no team built a lead as large as nine points.
“We have some really talented players so I try to let them have a great feel for the game,” La Rocque said. “Obviously, I’m the coach and [the players] look at me for guidance and I can kind of feel when they need some so I try and give them some structure when they need it.”
A game that was tied at 26 at half was turned upside down when the Lady Rebels used a 12-0 run to build its largest lead at the time, six points.
The third quarter saw the final lead change and tie of the game.
However, the quarter did start with La Rocque being given her second technical foul in as many games. “I’m not proud of any technical foul,” La Rocque said. “I felt like today was very-less deserving again, I feel like I’ve probably acted more aggressively and said crazier things in other games. I have to adjust to the refs, just as our team does. I thought it was a little bit of a – but what the ref feels, that's what they call.
“They’re human, they’re people. So [I’m] just trying to treat people with respect even if I don’t agree with a call they’ve missed or made.”
It appeared the tech was mounting as UNLV suffered another slow start to the game.
“I think we’re just trying to figure out what our groove is,” center Desi-Rae Young said. “It’s just the beginning of the season and we’re just trying to see where we are as a team.”
The Lady Rebels only found themselves down one point after the first quarter but Young and guard Essence Booker had yet to score.
“We look to both of them for a lot and scoring being one of them,” La Rocque said. “The first quarter we were just out of rhythm. We took great shots – it felt like there was a lid on the basket but credit [the team] for staying diligent and playing through it.”
The second quarter saw Young and Booker find the scoreboard.
In fact, Young reached 10 points in the third quarter, tying the game at 10 in the process.
During certain moments, even flashing her patented flex celebration.
“I just really love the support,” Young said with a smile. “I love everyone that supports me and my team and just everything that we do. It just makes me really happy because we do need supporters out there. Especially because women’s basketball is such a small thing [to some people].”
By the end of the third quarter, Young had 12 points in her 12 minutes of action.
She finished with 20 points on 7-of-11 from the field in 22 minutes of play.
The winning effort came in front of former WNBA league MVP and Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson.
“I just think it’s really nice,” Young said. “She came from a great school, she’s a great player, like one of my favorite players. I really do look up to her and seeing her there gave me a little bit more energy because it’s like, “I can be her one day.” Though in her second season at the helm, La Rocque spoke about her relationship with the Olympic Gold Medalist.
“A’ja texted me this week and asked for tickets,” she said. “Throughout [the Aces] season I stay in touch with her and I’ve connected with her on a couple of different things when she’s in town. We love her support so credit her.
“I hadn’t heard from her in a few weeks and she shot me a text that her parents were in town and they wanted to come to the game. Honestly, I was shocked because I know South Carolina has a big game I think on now.” Supporting local teams is not something new by any means to Wilson and she believes UNLV teams need the support most considering what lies ahead for the athletes.
“It’s very important because this is the next generation,” Wilson said. “This is the next wave that are soon going to be professionals. You form fanbases because people come out and support and it starts at this level. It starts at the collegiate level and it goes on to the pros.
“So for me to come out and support these women and men as well, it’s big for our community here in Vegas and I’m just glad to be a part of it.”