Lady Rebels perfect at home for first time in 44 years after beating Aztecs
The pursuit of perfection is still intact while a portion of it is complete for the No. 24 UNLV Lady Rebels in the midst of a historic regular season run.
UNLV sent away San Diego State, 65-59, Saturday, Feb. 24 from the Cox Pavilion, capturing its first undefeated regular season home slate since 1979. In addition, it’s the team’s first undefeated home schedule from the Cox Pavilion.
“I think it’s awesome,” head coach Lindy La Rocque said. “It’s something that’s so great for our fans, they didn’t see us lose here this year. It’s a credit to our team’s work ethic and their consistent commitment to doing the right thing. Life’s about the journey and we’re on a really fun one and it’s not done yet.”
With the win, the Lady Rebels stretched their season-long win streak to 17 games. Not to mention, the win came during the Senior Salute where the three seniors (Essence Booker, Justice Ethridge, Keyana Wilfred) on the roster as well as former UNLV player Jade Thomas were recognized after the game.
“The seniors tried to be humble and make it about the game,” sophomore Alyssa Brown said. “The rest of us wanted to make it about the seniors. We wanted them to go out with a bang. Last year, we couldn’t do that for our seniors unfortunately.”
UNLV has now beaten SDSU in six straight outings, while picking up victories in 11 of the last 12 tries. La Rocque is undefeated in her head coaching career against the Aztecs at 5-0.
It wasn’t smooth sailing the entire contest as the Lady Rebels found themselves down 10 points early in the second quarter on the heels of an 8-0 run by the visitors forcing a timeout from La Rocque.
“We kind of got on our heels,” La Rocque said. “We needed to be the aggressor so we called a timeout and put our press on [because] we wanted to change the momentum and get out and be aggressive.”
UNLV raced out to a 6-0 run out of the break before extending that run to 13-3 to tie the game on an and-one finish by Brown. Not long after, the run would be pushed to 15-3 to take the lead.
By halftime, Brown had 11 points and eight rebounds. In the first meeting between these two rivals, she recorded 12 points and eight rebounds in the game.
“It’s just what the game called for,” Brown said. “[Junior center Desi-Rae Young] and Essence went out early with foul trouble. We needed a post presence and [they] told me I had to go post up so that’s what I had to do.”
Brown ended the night with 14 points and 12 rebounds and was at the heart of the defensive effort in the third quarter that saw UNLV take a five-point lead on a 7-0 run. At the time, the five-point lead was the team’s largest of the game.
In addition to her offensive effort, Brown tallied a career-high five blocks on the defensive end.
“She was locked in,” La Rocque said. “She stepped up and made plays on both ends, some of her blocks were huge. AB has really quick hands, she’s a great athlete, she won the [tip-off]. Putting her on the tip isn’t just because I like her, it’s because she’s better at it than Desi and she’s showing that.”
As a result of her blocking prowess, Brown caught SDSU guard Asia Avinger going to the basket, hitting her hard before sending her to the ground. The play would be reviewed by officials but would stand as a common foul.
That would be one of several official reviews to come during the heated conference matchup. The contest was so heated that La Rocque went away from her flowing blonde hair and opted for a sleek ponytail.
“With all these people in here it gets a little warmer,” La Rocque said with a smile. “Then I got this jacket on, the team made me sweat a little bit early and I was really working the sidelines. So I had to pull my hair back for a second – I don’t think I’ve done that all year but I’ll do whatever the team needs and they do the same thing for me.”
UNLV won the battle in the paint (36-22) while outrebounding its opponent by 18.
Young overcame a four-point first half to come away with a team-high 15 points on 7-of-12 from the field. Young came up big when it mattered most which included ending a four-minute scoreless drought.
After blasting the Aztecs to the tune of 42% from three-point range, the Lady Rebels were stifled from doing so again in this one.
“[SDSU] is the best defensive team in the league for a reason,” La Rocque said. “I knew we weren’t just going to stand out on the perimeter and shoot threes but the ones we did make, man, they were huge.”
Despite only hitting three deep balls on the day, they all appeared to come at a much-needed moment, serving as would-be daggers.
Ethridge hit a buzzer-beating three just before halftime to put UNLV on top by a point. She finished with 13 points on 50% shooting after leading the team in scoring during the first meeting against SDSU.
Booker was the final Lady Rebel player in double-figures with 10 points and a team-high four assists.
Ethridge’s clutch bucket served as the team’s first made three of the night.
Sophomore guard Kiara Jackson broke a 41-41 tie with a made three right in front of the home team bench. Finally, Brown drained the final trey to put the team up six points in the fourth quarter.
UNLV will conclude its regular season with a trip up north to visit the Nevada – Reno Wolf Pack Tuesday, Feb. 28. Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m.
“We’ve done a really good job of not only staying narrowly focused but compartmentalizing,” La Rocque said. “We expect this and our team isn’t throwing a party because we won today. We expect to win, we knew it was going to be a tough battle, we’re happy that we won – we’re not going to give it back by any means but we expect it.
“There’s another job on Tuesday and we want to go up north and do it.”