Lindy La Rocque’s return to the coaching chair resulted in the UNLV Lady Rebels finishing off their two-game sweep in Hawaii, taking down the Hawaii Rainbow Wahine in the team’s latest contest.
“I’m just really proud of [the team’s] flexibility and support through it all,” she said. “If anything, some absence makes the heart grow fonder.” UNLV fought off a late rally from Hawaii to down the team, 76-66, from the SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center in Hawaii Sunday, Dec. 11. With the win, the team sweeps both of its games in Hawaii while improving to 2-1 on the road trip and 9-1 overall.
The program’s four-game road trip will end with a trip to Stillwater, Oklahoma for a matchup with the Oklahoma State Cowgirls. That one is scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 18 with tip-off slated for 1 p.m. It can also be seen on ESPN+.
“We’re really excited about what’s in front of us,” La Rocque said. “We’ve got some finals so I know our team has got to feel a little stressed or maybe overloaded mentally.
“But we’ve got the whole week to prepare and work on ourselves [...] And maybe for the first time this year, we aren’t going to be favored in the game and that’s kind of where we actually like to be.”
It was a 6-0 fourth quarter run by UNLV that saw the team regain control after Hawaii had knotted the game at 59 apiece.
Junior center Desi-Rae Young got things started by forcing a turnover on a three-second lane violation. Immediately after, she came down and hit a turnaround jumper to start the run, a run where she’d score four of the six.
A jumper from senior guard Essence Booker capped the run, forcing a Rainbow Wahine timeout in the process.
“That’s what we have to rely on,” La Rocque said. “We know we can rely on those leaders of Desi, Essence and [senior guard] Justice Ethridge and obviously with [junior forward Nenka Obiazor] out, it puts even more of an emphasis on those three.”
Obiazor missed her second straight game due to injury. However, La Rocque explained the back-to-back games missed was more of a precautionary method by the team and she will be evaluated once the team returns to Las Vegas.
Young finished with a season-high 25 points on 10-of-12 from the field to go along with 10 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the season.
In addition, Young was at the heart of a defensive effort that held Hawaii to just two points over the last 2:42 of regulation.
“Anything that they put their minds to I know 100%, without a doubt, they can do it,” La Rocque said. “And that’s anything. When they put their minds to it, I have all the confidence in the world that they’re going to get the job done.”
At one point in the third quarter, the Lady Rebels were up by 15 points, their largest lead of the game.
The Rainbow Wahine went on an 11-2 run to climb back to within single-digits. Before the end of the third quarter, Hawaii would work the deficit back down to five points.
However, it was a 9-2 run by the home team that tied the game at 59 apiece prior to the game-changing run by UNLV.
After back-to-back games with a sluggish start to the first half, the Lady Rebels made it a point to not let it happen this time around. “Obviously, everyone had an awareness [of] it,” La Rocque said. “Of course, they’re not intentionally having those slow starts but it’s also about making the change in our preparation and our mindset going in.
“I thought we had a great start today because Essence had a great start.”
Booker helped score five points during a 9-2 first quarter run by UNLV on the way to a six-point lead heading into the second quarter. By the end of the first half, Booker had tallied 14 of her 17 points in the first half.