Season of firsts comes to end in First Round of NCAA Tournament
After 20 years without a NCAA tournament berth, this year’s UNLV Lady Rebels are one-and-done.
Number 13-seeded UNLV was ousted from the NCAA Tournament’s First Round after losing to the No. 4 Arizona Wildcats, 72-67, Saturday, March 19 in Tucson, Arizona as part of the Greensboro Region.
“What a tremendous basketball game and atmosphere,” head coach Lindy La Rocque said. “This is March and it was everything you paid for your ticket.”
The Lady Rebels are now 3-6 all-time against the Wildcats. In addition, the team has not won a tournament game since 1991.
Meanwhile, Arizona moves on to play the No. 5 seed, North Carolina Monday, March 21.
“Obviously, this one stings pretty bad,” La Rocque said. “But we’re going to use it as fuel to the fire because this is where we belong and we showed a lot of people that too.”
As the season draws to a close, UNLV shuts the 2021-22 campaign with a 26-7 overall record and their most wins since 2004.
Moreover, La Rocque is 41-16 in her first two seasons as head coach of the Lady Rebels.
When asked about what La Rocque will remember most about this season, she fought back tears before giving her answer.
“There’s just times in your life when you get the synergy of the right people around you,” she said. “That you just know something is working and coming together. I think I felt it all year with this group even in some of the earlier games when we were struggling. I just had this sense that this group is really special because they’re great young women first and they have, honestly, such polarizing personalities and I’m thinking, ‘How do they get along?’ And they love each other.”
Fifth-year transfer forward Khayla Rooks played her final college game in the NCAA Tournament after four years with the Washington Huskies, going 38-75 in the process.
“This is definitely my best, most favorite college year,” she said. “This team is special, this coaching staff is special, the supporting staff is amazing. I’m so blessed to be here, so blessed to be a part of it and I’m happy I got to finish out my basketball career with these amazing people in my life.” Rooks’ late father, Sean, played his collegiate ball at Arizona.
“It was definitely a really special game,” she said. “Very high emotions for me just being here and playing in my dad’s house. It was definitely a special game – if I had to end my career anywhere, it’s a special place to end it.”
Arizona built a lead as large as 12 points in the final quarter behind a 19-3 start to the frame.
UNLV went scoreless for nearly four minutes to open the fourth quarter and only had three points through the seven and a half minutes.
The fourth quarter mishaps came after a strong start to the game by the lower seeded Lady Rebels.
“We were really confident,” La Rocque said. “I know better than anybody, this is a good shooter’s gym so I was thinking, ‘Man, it’ll be nice to come out here and hit our first couple of shots.’ And defensively, I think we were really solid.”
UNLV raced out to an early 8-3 lead in the first quarter before pushing it seven early in the second. That would be the largest lead of the game for the away team.
The first tie of the game came at 20 apiece in the second quarter after Arizona went on an 11-4 run to tilt the momentum.
That 10-minute period saw the Lady Rebels score one point over the final 3:17 of the first half.
“In general, I think our team was really prepared,” La Rocque said. “[The Wildcats’] size, strength and athleticism I do think kind of wore us down. Wore us down mentally, physically.”
The Wildcats pushed the lead to six in the third quarter but the freshmen from the Lady Rebels, kept the team afloat.
“You think about having a national television audience and a lot of new faces probably watching us,” La Rocque said. “I think they can tell that the future is bright for the Lady Rebels with [freshman guards] Kiara [Jackson] and Alyssa [Durazo-Frescas] obviously out there and leading that third quarter charge for sure.”
Durazo-Frescas scored all nine of her points in the third quarter and accounted for three of the team’s five made three-pointers.
Jackson played the fourth-most minutes of any Lady Rebel with her and Durazo-Frescas accounting two of the top four minute spots.
Overall, the game produced seven ties and seven lead changes.
Sophomore center Desi-Rae Young had her fingerprints all over the game, drawing two fouls in the first minute and a half.
“No, I didn’t,” she said when asked if she had anything to prove in this game. “I just knew that it was going to be high-energy and I wanted to bring energy for my team and our supporters that were there.”
Young added six points and five rebounds in the first quarter en route to 16 points and 11 rebounds, both team-highs. Fellow sophomore Nneka Obiazor scored 10 points in the first half, highlighted by six in the second quarter.
In the third quarter, she bumped knees with an Arizona player. From that point on, Obiazor appeared to be bothered by a right leg injury.
“I think she kind of just got a knee to the quad and got like a Charlie Horse,” La Rocque said. “It happened right in front of our bench and those don’t feel good.”
The duo of Young and Obiazor helped UNLV to a 20-14 advantage in paint points in the first half, only to be outscored 22-12 in the second half.
UNLV did win the rebounding battle, 36-22.
Junior guard Essence Booker had a slow start to the game, scoring her second field goal of the game more than six minutes into the second quarter.
“I wasn’t doing a very good job at helping with the ball,” she said. “I feel like I was kind of drawing stuff up and preaching a message to my other guards but I wasn’t doing it myself. So Lindy just reiterated that to me and I told Kiara, ‘I apologize, that’s my bad and it won’t happen again.’”
By the end of the game, Booker posted 12 points on 4-of-10 from the field to go along with five rebounds and five assists.
She did account for five of the team’s 19 turnovers.