A season-best win streak has now reached seven straight games for the UNLV Lady Rebels.
UNLV beat the Air Force Falcons, 72-54, Saturday, Jan. 29 from the Cox Pavilion.
With the UNLV bench emptied with about 20 seconds left, Air Force was still actively pressing despite being down nearly 20 points.
The Lady Rebels broke past the defense and added another bucket just before the final buzzer.
“First off, I totally respect [Air Force head coach] Chris Gobrecht and the Air Force program,” La Rocque said. “They hang their hat on their pressure defense and I’m all for that [...] Late in the game, when we’re playing our subs and they have their starters in, we’re going to stay aggressive because I’m not going to put my team in a situation to look bad.
“As a coach, it’s on me to put them into successful situations and so [freshman guard Kiara Jackson] was getting pressured – she already had a couple of turnovers, I don’t want her to turn it over. So the best way to do that is to run a play and look to score.”
Jackson played a pivotal role in the win, scoring 13 points off-the-bench for UNLV.
Moreover, the win secures a season sweep for the home team, beating Air Force by an average of 17 points.
Sitting atop the Mountain West standings, the Lady Rebels are 17-4 on the year and 9-1 in the conference.
In addition, the team is 10-1 at home this season.
Now the team will take its “hunted” mentality on the road for the first time this season though it will have a week to prepare.
La Rocque called the team’s predicament a “privilege.” “First off, we’re going to get the most out of the early part of the week,” La Rocque said. “With an extra day to rest, again work on our stuff and continue to improve on how we’re playing and what we’re doing before turning our attention to our next opponent.”
Utah State is next for UNLV with gameday set for Saturday, Feb. 5 with tipoff set for 7 p.m.
The Lady Rebels are 7-2 on the road this season and 16-2 away from Cox Pavilion under La Rocque.
In the team’s first game since becoming No. 1 in the conference, La Rocque wondered if a hangover period would occur.
UNLV tallied five turnovers in the first four and a half minutes of the game.
“It’s been an emotional and exciting week,” La Rocque said. “Big game Thursday and quick turnaround here against a really good team. We were light yesterday, had a shootaround – mainly, just to try and keep our legs as fresh as possible after frankly blowing our gas tank Thursday.”
On the other hand, Air Force didn’t commit its first turnover more than seven and a half minutes into the game.
However, a 13-2 Las Vegas run to close out the first and open the second quarter flipped the game around.
Before halftime, the Lady Rebels would build a lead as large as 10 points.
Before the end of the game, the lead would grow to as many as 20 points.
While shooting better than 47% from the field, UNLV held Air Force to 29% on the other end.
In addition, the Lady Rebels dominated the rebounding battle, winning it 50-34.
Freshman forward Alyssa Brown tallied a career-high 13 rebounds in 22 minutes while also accumulating a block and a steal.
“I mean AB was awesome,” La Rocque said. “Thirteen rebounds, I think six offensive rebounds. I mean that’s what she does in practice, that’s why she makes the post players in front of her so much better. They grind against each other in practice and it’s nice to see.
“AB’s got a great opportunity here and she is really making the most of it. When you get closer to the end of the season, you never know what’s going to happen and for her to get these valuable minutes, it’s only going to pay off for her and us.”
The team played its second straight game without senior forward Khayla Rooks, who has been dealing with a lower leg injury.
“[It’s] just the preparation from everybody,” sophomore center Desi-Rae Young said. “We need to be mentally and physically prepared to play these teams. We know we’re going to have to play these teams and we’ll always have to step up. You never know who's going to be there, you never know who's going to be in foul trouble so just being able to step up is good.”
Young and junior guard Essence Booker both combined to have big games to lead UNLV to victory.
“They’re both very good players,” La Rocque said. “We have a really, really talented team where the go-to player is the open player. We have five people out there that are scoring threats and can shoot it and can go get a bucket. So teams have to kind of pick their poison.”
Coming off a career-high 31 points, Booker added 16 more on 6-of-11 shooting to go with five rebounds and five assists.
Young tallied 16 points of her own on an equal 6-of-11 from the field to go along with eight rebounds.
“I just think it’s the flow of the game,” Young said. “[We’re] just reading each other. If she’s going to the basket, I’m going right behind her just in case she needs a rebound. She needs a screen? I’m going to set the screen for her.”
Much like previous Mountain West games, Young saw several defensive coverages from the Falcon defense.
“I’m just noticing that teams are going at us way harder,” she said. “Now that we’ve beaten New Mexico, it’s really a fat target on our backs so anytime somebody plays us – our names will be circled on their calendars so we know that.”
For the third time in conference play, everybody in uniform on the UNLV bench logged minutes.
Senior guard Justice Ethridge was limited to 12 minutes of action while dealing with a lingering leg issue.
“She wasn’t 100% for sure,” La Rocque said. “Again, we had a light day yesterday and even a little bit of a light shootaround. So, I gave her the shot to start out there and I didn’t think she was too bad but again, it’s nice to have so much talent.
“[Sophomore guard] Jade Thomas, came in – [freshman guard] Kendaee Winfrey came in and gave us big minutes [...] So for me as a coach, it just wasn’t worth it [...] but she’s not 100% and I’m interested in her getting 100%.”