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UNLV turns tide on road, beat SDSU for first place in Mountain West

UNLV had to steady a rocking boat but managed to come away with a win in its most recent contest to remain undefeated in conference play this season.

The Lady Rebels downed the San Diego State Aztecs, 76-70, Saturday, Jan. 7 from Viejas Arena. The winner of this game took over sole possession of first place in the Mountain West.

“To be honest, we’re not focused on that at all,” head coach Lindy La Rocque said. “We’re just trying to win the game that we’re at all. To be honest, I didn’t even know half of those [series stats].

“I would bet our team doesn’t because it’s not about going undefeated in conference or anything like that – we’re way too early into it to get into any of that stuff.”

La Rocque is now 4-0 against SDSU in her career as the program picked up its 10th win against its rival in the last 11 meetings.

In addition, UNLV has now won five straight games since losing on the road to Oklahoma State. The Lady Rebels are now 14-2 on the year and 4-0 in the conference for the first time since the 2003-04 season.

This season’s team is now 4-2 on the road with the final leg of a three-game road trip up next.

“We’ve got to stay disciplined,” La Rocque said. “We’ve to stay disciplined in how we play. Our message to our team isn’t changing: ‘The most important game is the next one that we play.’” The road trip will end with a dance against the San Jose State Spartans Wednesday, Jan. 11 from the Provident Credit Union Event Center. Tip-off is slated for 6 p.m.

The final minutes of regulation in the last outing for UNLV went haywire in moments but the team still managed to eke out a win against the Mountain West’s best defense.

For nearly a two-minute stretch at the end of the game, the Lady Rebels committed three turnovers and would go without a field goal for the final 2:44 of regulation.

“I’m not worried about that,” La Rocque said. “To be honest, the game was a 10-point and even 12-point game there at one point so it’s about managing it. The best thing that we did was use the clock.”

UNLV was rushed into 17 turnovers on the night while forcing its opponent into just eight mistakes.

By that point, the visitors had done just enough to already have the game out-of-reach. It began with a 9-0 run in the second quarter that saw the team take a three-point lead. Eventually, that 9-0 run turned into an 11-0 run to head into halftime.

“We just kind of had to find our rhythm offensively,” La Rocque said. “And just adjust to the game a little bit, it was really physical early. That’s fine, we’re able to play that way but you just have to adjust and figure out how we’re going to score.”

While finally getting shots to fall on the offensive end, the Lady Rebels stifled any offensive success for the Aztecs. In fact, San Diego State went without a point for the final 3:52 of the first half, losing the quarter, 22-12, in the process.

Senior guard Essence Booker scored 14 of her 17 points in the first half on 6-of-10 from the floor. She had a second quarter buzzer-beating jumper wiped off the board during halftime after an official review. Her efforts helped UNLV win the battle of benches, outscoring SDSU’s bench, 32-6.

Over the last four games with Booker in the lead guard role off-the-bench, she is averaging 13 points per game on 47% shooting.

“She’s focused on being her,” La Rocque said. “She’s getting back to the way she plays and how we know. She’s just taking care of her own business and that’s the biggest thing. She’s not worried about the role and what it looks like. She’s put herself back into where she belongs.”

Booker added a game-high seven assists, accounting for more than half of her team’s assists total of 13.

“Well, the ball is going to be in her hands,” La Rocque said. “To be honest, sometimes she’d rather pass it than score, which can drive me nuts at times. She’s unselfish and she wants to make the right play every single time.”

Fellow senior Justice Ethridge led all Lady Rebel scorers with 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting with three made three-pointers. Over the last two games, she has racked up 42 points on 14-of-24 from the floor including 7-of-11 from deep.

Reigning Mountain West Player of the Year Desi-Rae Young was limited to just two first half points on two field goal attempts.

“They were physical,” La Rocque said. “I think [Desi] was a little frustrated and that’s on us and our team to put her in good spots and I thought we did a much better job of that in the second half.”

When Young started to gather her bearings in the third quarter, so did the entire UNLV offense. Young scored eight third quarter points, helping the Lady Rebels extend the lead to 12 points, their largest of the game.

Young finished the night with 16 points and a game-high 16 rebounds, securing her eighth double-double of the season.

Sophomore forward Alyssa Brown chipped in with 12 points and eight rebounds off-the-bench for La Rocque’s group.

The team announced last week that junior forward Nneka Obiazor’s season is over as she recovers from knee surgery.


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