The UNLV Lady Rebels remained undefeated Sunday, Nov. 27 as they played in the championship game of the UNLV Thanksgiving Tournament against the Illinois State Redbirds.
UNLV won 73-66 to improve to 7-0 on the year, giving the program its best start in 32 years.
The last 7-0 start was during the 1990-91 season. Many Rebel fans remember this as the year after the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels won the National Championship.
“We had a goal coming into this weekend to win the tournament,” head coach Lindy La Rocque said. “It’s our own tournament and with three games in three days, it’s a lot. Here we are. We did it. One championship down and we’ve got a few more to win.”
The Lady Rebels are the only undefeated team remaining in the Mountain West Standings. After losing the opener to No. 2 Stanford, San Diego State has reeled off six straight wins to take over the second spot in the standings.
UNLV caused all sorts of havoc on the defensive side of the ball, forcing Illinois State into 25 turnovers in the game which included 15 first half turnovers. UNLV was able to convert those 25 turnovers into 34 points.
“The game plan was to do something we never did before which was trap on the ball screen,” junior forward Desi-Rae Young said. “We were very efficient, and I thought it was a great change that Coach Lindy made for us and that the coaching staff said to do. I’m proud of us and everything that we executed.”
Young finished the game with 17 points and 6 rebounds. She is now averaging 14.4 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per game this season.
Senior guard Justice Ethridge continued to bring the defensive presence to the Lady Rebel backcourt as she finished the afternoon with 16 points, three steals and had the lone block for UNLV.
“Defense is just about effort and playing hard,” Ethridge said. “As long as you’re playing hard and giving it your all, you’ll pretty much be successful on defense.”
Young, Ethridge and junior forward Nneka Obiazor were all named to the all-tournament team.
“Justice gives us every ounce of energy she has,” La Rocque said. “She left it all out there on the court all weekend and we needed every ounce of energy that she had. She’s the defensive player of the year and we haven’t even started.”
The game tightened up in the final minutes of this one and Illinois State was even able to get the deficit down to as little as five with 1:44 left, but some made free throws by Ethridge and fellow senior guard Essence Booker sealed the deal for the Lady Rebels.
The UNLV Lady Rebels have the week off before hitting the road for the next four games which features stops in Stockton, Hawaii for two games, and Oklahoma. The next game up for the Lady Rebels is Saturday, Dec. 3rd at 2 p.m. in Stockton, California as they take on the University of the Pacific.
“We’ve been really comfortable here at home this whole month which is nice and we like that but we have to take our show on the road,” La Rocque said. “Four road games here. We got to see what kind of warriors we can be on the road. I know our team will respond but there’s definitely different adversity when you go on the road.”