A third win over the Utah State Aggies was how the UNLV Lady Rebels opened its Mountain West Championships quest.
UNLV beat Utah State, 82-69, in a quarterfinals matchup Monday, March 7 from the Thomas & Mack Center.
During the regular season, the Lady Rebels beat the Aggies by an average margin of 15 points per game.
“First and foremost, we’re excited to get the win here today against a really good Utah State [team],” head coach Lindy La Rocque said. “Obviously, the best thing that happened is we won the game and that’s how you have to advance at this point in the season.”
This season the program is 4-0 when playing inside the T&M.
It’s the first conference tournament win as a coach for La Rocque after being upset by a No. 7 Wyoming team in the quarterfinals last season.
“As a team, we didn’t talk about it,” La Rocque said. “Because there were only three of them that even experienced it. For me, it was mainly just trying to prepare our young players and our team collectively for the intensity and the excitement of, what is, tournament basketball.”
After advancing to the semifinals, UNLV now awaits the winner of the matchup between No. 4 Nevada – Reno and No. 5 Air Force. “Well you do your work all year to put yourself in this position,” La Rocque said. “As the No. 1 seed, you get extra time on the court before games, you get to sit and watch the rest of the games, you might get some extra rest.
“We’ll watch the first half of this game but then we’re back to us. We’re really just sitting so we can eat our lunch and then we're getting back to our hotel and [recover], we can watch the game from there.”
While battling slow first quarters all season long, La Rocque and company opted to wait until the second quarter to jump into a press defense.
“You want me to give away all my trade secrets,” she asked. “It just kind of goes with the flow of the game, we like to stick with our player-to-player defense early to see what [the opponent] is doing, what [it’s] running.”
The team opened the game missing its first four shots of the game and five of its first six attempts.
However, after jumping into a press defense, the Lady Rebels quickly ran off a 9-0 run to go up six points.
That lead would be 11 before the end of the half behind another 9-0 run before halftime.
Utah State would be held scoreless for the final 4:12 of the first half.
After pushing the lead to 13 to open the second half, the Aggies would make another run to cut it to six.
It wouldn’t be long before UNLV pushed the lead back to double-digits and eventually up to as many as 17 points.
“I’m very proud,” junior guard Essence Booker said. “I guess I can’t celebrate too much right now because I want to down that net. Lindy continues to emphasize, ‘We want to take the net down.’”
Of the 40-minutes, the Lady Rebels led for just under 29 minutes.
Sophomore forward Nneka Obiazor led the team in scoring with 20 points and led the team in rebounding with nine.
“It’s a big time spark,” senior forward Khayla Rooks said. “Especially with her coming off the bench, we’re really going to need that going forward.”
Obiazor scored the bucket in the first quarter that gave UNLV it’s first lead of the game.
Sophomore center Desi-Rae Young didn’t score her first points of the game until early in the second quarter on a pair of free throws.
With 47 seconds left in the first half, she scored her first field goal.
Utah State’s Adryana Quezada led the Aggies in scoring with 26 and from tipoff took it right at Young, forcing her to expend energy on defense.
“We kind of knew that their bigs were going to come at our bigs,” Rooks said. “So I think we knew early, it was just a matter of – honestly it was the rebounds that we really struggled with. So it was just a matter of getting rebounds and stopping the post.”
Young finished with 12 points and eight rebounds while battling foul trouble.
Rooks added 11 points, four rebounds and three assists.
UNLV won the paint battle by 20 points but only outrebounded Utah State by two.
Booker scored all 10 of her points in the first half before adding five rebounds and five assists to her final stat line.
She was lifted in the backcourt by big kick-in performances by freshman guards Alyssa Durazo-Frescas and Kiara Jackson.
“It’s awesome,” Booker said. “I feel like they know their roles and they come in and play hard and they know what we’re after – we’re all after the same thing and that’s a championship.”
Durazo-Frescas posted nine points, accounting for three of the team’s five made three-pointers.
As a team, UNLV shot 5-for-14 from three while holding Utah State to 8-for-30.
Jackson added nine points of her own on 50% shooting from the floor.
Overall, the team had five players score in double figures with senior guard Justice Ethridge rounding out the field with 11 points.
“I think our depth, the talent on our team just puts me in such a good situation as a coach,” La Rocque said. “I trust them - I trust all of them. Not just Essence, not just Desi, all of them. When they’re put in a situation to make a play, they can do it. We say all the time, our go-to player is the open player.”