Lady Rebels rely on defense, beat Bulldogs for 5th straight time
Stifling defense is the best way to describe how the UNLV Lady Rebels stayed perfect in conference play following its latest win over the Fresno State Bulldogs.
UNLV beat Fresno State, 64-49, Thursday, Jan. 5 from the Save Mart Center in Northern California in the team’s first Mountain West road game of the year. The Lady Rebels have now beaten the Bulldogs in five straight meetings including two 10-point wins last year.
“I thought we gave some tremendous effort today,” head coach Lindy La Rocque said. “Frankly, on both ends. Fresno’s a really good team, they kind of make you play an ugly way.”
With the win, UNLV improved to 13-2 on the year and 3-0 in the Mountain West. This is the first time in 11 years that the program has started 3-0 in conference play.
“I don’t think I even knew that,” La Rocque said. “We’re just really narrow-minded. We just try to stay focused on the next game because that’s the most important game.”
Now, the team will travel to 12-3 San Diego State for a date with the Aztecs.
“I’m not sure there’s a more confident team than San Diego State right now,” La Rocque said. “We’re going to go get some ice cream to celebrate this one but we’ve got to get to work on them.”
That game will be played Saturday, Jan. 7 from Viejas Arena with tip-off scheduled for 1 p.m.
UNLV used a couple of defensive stretches to close quarters that turned out to be the difference in this 15-point finish.
After scoring the game’s first two points, the Lady Rebels were outscored 8-0 by the Bulldogs. However, the defense began to stiffen up both ways as the quarter ended with Fresno State on top, 10-7.
Despite trailing, the Lady Rebels had held their opponents scoreless for the final three minutes of the quarter.
“Finishing our quarters has kind of been a focus for us lately,” La Rocque said. “We hadn’t been really good there in the last couple of games. I take some ownership of that, that’s a part of game-management.” That defensive stretch allowed UNLV to push a first quarter run into the second quarter, eventually to the tune of 7-0 to take a 12-10 lead. Another run came just before halftime as the Lady Rebels went on a 10-0 spurt over the final 4:36 of the second quarter.
In addition to the run, UNLV held Fresno State without a point for five-plus minutes to close the first half. The largest lead of the night reached 18 points for the visitors.
By the final buzzer, the Lady Rebels held the Bulldogs to 29% shooting from the field while shooting 50% on the other end. As a result, UNLV outrebounded its opponent by 20.
“When you get to conference play people know each other so well,” La Rocque said. “Coaches know each other and most things don’t change from year-to-year unless there’s a new coach. Whether it's scoring droughts or really good defense, those are just part of the runs that happen in conference play.”
Senior guard Justice Ethridge was the first player in double-figures for either side with 11 points. In fact, she scored 13 of the team’s first 23 points.
“Justice is just a baller,” La Rocque said. “She does whatever our team needs and somehow she knows that going into the game. I’d like to take the credit but I can’t always.”
Ethridge capped a 7-0 second quarter run with a three-pointer, one of her four on the night. She scored 20 points on 7-of-11 from the floor with one miss from three.
Senior center Desi-Rae Young scored 20 of her game-high 25 points in the second half. She scored nine points in the third quarter and put the finishing touches on her seventh double-double of the season.
She finished with 18 rebounds to go along with her 25 points.
Late in regulation, Young put the game away with an and-one basket that came on the heels of 13 straight dribbles on her way to the rim. That sequence was the career-high in consecutive dribbles for the junior.
Fellow senior Essence Booker added 13 points off-the-bench and was the final Lady Rebel in double-figures.