Lady Rebels run away late, claim share of Mountain West title
For the third time in the last five years, the UNLV Lady Rebels have claimed at least a share of the Mountain West regular season title. More notably, it’s the second straight for head coach Lindy La Rocque and company.
UNLV downed Boise State, 76-63, Saturday, Feb. 11 from the ExtraMile Arena. The win marked the 17th straight conference win for the Lady Rebels including last year’s Mountain West Championships.
“I don’t think we were totally running through teams,” La Rocque said. “A lot of our games have kind of been like this where it’s a battle. Then we’re able in the fourth quarter or even the third quarter to go on a run and stretch out the score a little bit.”
As it presently stands, UNLV is 24-2 on the year and 14-0 in the Mountain West. Not surprisingly, the team sits atop of the conference standings after picking up its 15th straight win.
The pit stop trip to Boise State has come and gone as the Lady Rebels improved to 10-2 on the road with a three-game homestand looming.
UNLV will host San Jose State Thursday, Feb. 16 with tip-off planned for 6:30 p.m. from the Cox Pavilion. A win means an outright claim of the regular season title for the Lady Rebels.
“It comes with some maturity,” La Rocque said. “It comes with some experience. Our team is confident and we know who we are. A lot of teams don’t necessarily know that. We know who our best players are, we know who should have the ball, we know what we should execute and a lot of that is on them.”
As it has most of the season, UNLV used another third quarter run to put distance between the two teams en route to another win. Coming into the game, the program had outscored opponents, 532-416, in the first frame coming out of halftime.
The momentum shift came via a 9-0 run by the Lady Rebels to match the team’s largest lead of the night to that point at six points. By the third quarter buzzer, UNLV had finished the frame +5.
“When we come in at halftime, we really analyze the first half and come into halftime with our team to make specific changes,” La Rocque said. “Whether that’s defensively or where we want to attack offensively because after the first 20 minutes you get a good idea of how the game is going to go. So we give them specific instructions and they go out and execute it.”
A quick 4-0 start to the fourth quarter pushed the lead to 10 and eventually 11. Not long after the lead would widen to 13 points on an and-one three-point basket from senior guard Justice Ethridge that served as the dagger.
UNLV’s largest lead of the game would later by 15 points.
Junior center Desi-Rae Young scored 10 of her game-high 24 points in the third quarter including a turnaround jumper to cap that 9-0 game-changing run. She added nine rebounds to go with her game-high scoring output.
Senior guard Essence Booker added 22 points on 8-of-10 from the field, the exact shooting numbers as Young, as well as grabbing nine rebounds.
“I would’ve loved for both of them to have one more rebound and each get a double-double,” La Rocque said. “Mainly because they deserved it with how hard they played, how much they both kind of controlled the game but that doesn’t take away from [their nights] because they didn’t get that rebound.”
Young and Booker’s effort on the board did help the Lady Rebels win the rebounding battle by one. Entering play, both UNLV and Boise State were the top two rebounding teams in the Mountain West.
As a result, the program held the advantage in terms of second chance points, 17-9.
UNLV was boosted by 68 points from its starters but it's bench was outscored, 29-8.
“We get great production from our bench – I think it might be different in different games,” La Rocque said. “We start the five we do for a reason and especially late in games, the ball is going to be in Essence’s and Desi’s hands. The production we get off the bench is kind of a cherry on top.”
Broncos freshman Tatum Thompson exploded in the first quarter for 12 points on a perfect 5-for-5 start from the field. She recorded a new career-high in the first half with 14 points.
After that showing in the first half, La Rocque and company devised a defensive gameplan that would hold Thompson to just five second half points.
“I’m not going to lie, she wasn’t the first person we were worried about in our scouting report,” La Rocque said. “But then as the game [went], she got hot and was playing well then we came in at halftime and made adjustments.”
It wasn’t just Thompson who struggled in the second half, As a team, Boise State was held to 27% from the field in the second half including a 1-for-8 mark from downtown.