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UNLV survives Wyoming, improve to 2-0 in Mountain West

The UNLV Lady Rebels are off to an undefeated start the Mountain West play two games in after opening its home slate of conference play with another win.

UNLV held off the Wyoming Cowgirls, 66-60, Friday, Dec. 31 from the Cox Pavilion despite holding a lead as large as 17 points.

“That’s conference play,” head coach Lindy La Rocque said. “In conference, you’re never going to beat someone by 20 points. Obviously we’d love to and we got on a run but everybody knows each other, we’ve been playing each other for years. So you have to expect when we go on a run, they’re going to battle back with their own run and that’s what happened.”

That’s four straight wins for the program and seven wins in the last eight games for the Lady Rebels.

The win improves the team to 10-3 on the season.and 2-0 in the Mountain West conference. UNLV is now 6-1 at home.

There won’t be another home game for the Lady Rebels until Thursday, Jan. 13 so the next two games for the program will take place on the road.

“We have to be excited about getting the win here today,” La Rocque said. “Then quickly turn our attention to next week. It seems like our next home game is far away but we only play two games in between now and then.”

A Monday, Jan. 3 matchup with New Mexico is next on the schedule with tipoff set for 6 p.m.

The close finish came on the heels of a fast start for UNLV, on both ends of the floor.

Wyoming didn’t score its first points of the game until the 5:54-mark of the first quarter. With that, the home team opened the game up 11.

“We knew right away they were going to use all the time on the shot clock,” sophomore forward Nneka Obiazor said. “We knew that we had to stay low and not give up any easy shots and be ready for anything.”

A minute later, during the television timeout, the Cowgirls had turned the ball over three times already while the Lady Rebels had yet to commit their first.

“That was part of our gameplan,” La Rocque said. “They’re so good methodically in their offense. They’re so disciplined, they take care of the ball so well, they don’t foul – they really don’t beat themselves. We were trying to manufacture some ways to speed them up.”

Coming into the game, Wyoming ranked third in the Mountain West and 10th nationally in fewest turnovers a game at 11.8 per contest.

UNLV forced its conference rival into 21 turnovers while committing 18 on the other end.

Even when UNLV committed back-to-back turnovers coming out of the timeout, Wyoming returned the favor with two turnovers of its own.

The road team had six turnovers in the first 8:05 of the contest before an 8-0 cut the Lady Rebels lead to four heading into the second quarter.

UNLV didn’t commit a personal foul until more than 14 minutes into the second quarter.

“It was a pretty clean first half,” La Rocque said. “Frankly, that’s how we like it. It was pretty physical but it wasn’t dirty. I think that’s how [Wyoming] likes to play, that’s how we like to play.”

UNLV would rebuild the lead and capped it at 17 points in the second half. However, Wyoming would make another run and cut it down to as little as two points in the fourth quarter.

Sophomore center Desi-Rae Young didn’t score her first points of the game until the second quarter after being named the conference Player of the Week for the second time this season and the third time in her career.

Two and a half minutes into the game, Obiazor checked into the game for Young.

“Nneka gives us great energy,” La Rocque said. “Talking about trying to bottle some things up, If anything, I try to reel her in sometimes she can get a little bit wild. But her aggressiveness to score and play defense – her energy, it really sparks our team.”

Obiazor would be the team’s main offensive catalyst for a vast majority of the game, reaching double-digits before anybody else in red.

“For me, it’s just working hard,” she said. “Pushing the floor puts myself in the position to where I can get the ball and I can score and feel comfortable playing my game and how I play.”

She would finish with 10 points on 50% shooting from the floor in 17 minutes of action.

Young would get it going late before ending the night with 15 points on 5-of-12 from the field with seven rebounds.

Junior guard Essence Booker continued in her role as closer for the team, closing with a team-high 16 points on 4-of-9 shooting to go along with six rebounds. She did have six turnovers.

Booker was also a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line including the game-sealing points from the line.

The team also played without sophomore guard Jade Thomas due to health and safety protocols for COVID-19.

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