NCAA Tournaments filled with familiar Las Vegas faces
A dozen players with local ties are participating in this year’s NCAA Tournaments, ranging from experienced starters to role-playing reserves.
A strong local contingent represents Las Vegas in the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, ranging from experienced standout starters to role-playing reserves on teams across the country:
Frankie Collins, Arizona State: Formerly of Clark and Coronado, the sophomore point guard returns to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season, this time as a starter for the Sun Devils. In 33 games, Collins averaged 9.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists while shooting 39.4 percent from the field and 33.8 percent from 3-point range. As a freshman last year at Michigan, Collins scored a season-high 14 points in a first-round tournament victory over Colorado State.
Joshua Jefferson, Saint Mary’s: A year after helping Liberty claim its first Class 5A state championship, the freshman forward is averaging 2.3 points in 8.3 minutes for the WCC regular-season champion Gaels.
Will McClendon, UCLA: The former Bishop Gorman standout missed his entire true freshman season with a knee injury but has returned this year to average 9.4 minutes per game for the Bruins.
Julian Strawther, Gonzaga: Formerly Liberty’s star small forward, Strawther is a veteran of the NCAA Tournament — playing in nine games and making four starts in a tertiary role on a loaded roster. This season, though, he’s bearing more of a burden for the Bulldogs, averaging 15.1 points and 5.9 rebounds while shooting 48.3 percent from the field and 42.6 percent from 3-point range in what will likely be his last year with the program.
Darrion Williams, UNR: The state’s reigning Gatorade Player of the Year and former Bishop Gorman star stepped into the starting lineup as a true freshman for the Wolf Pack, averaging 7.5 points and 7.3 rebounds in 30.4 minutes per game. A versatile wing, Williams was awarded Mountain West Freshman of the Year honors amid a seamless transition from high school to college.
Taylor Bigby, Southern California: The former two-time state Gatorade Player of the Year and Oregon guard has found a home as a redshirt freshman with the Trojans. She is averaging 4.4 points while shooting 37.9 percent from 3-point range in 30 games, including seven starts.
Essence Booker, UNLV: Twice an all-conference honoree in the Mountain West, Spring Valley’s former star is averaging 13.2 points and 4.0 assists for the conference champion Lady Rebels. Booker debuted last year in the NCAA Tournament, registering 12 points, five rebounds and five assists in a 72-67 loss to Arizona.
Justice Ethridge, UNLV: Once the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year at Centennial, the all-conference senior wing is averaging 9.1 points on 50.9 percent shooting, including 39.8 percent from 3-point range while doubling as a top perimeter defender. Ethridge played 23 minutes in last year’s tournament loss to Arizona, scoring five points on 2-of-4 shooting.
Daejah Phillips, Hawaii: Also a former Centennial star, the junior guard is averaging 11 points, and she scored 19 in the conference championship game last weekend in Las Vegas to power the Rainbow Wahine to their second consecutive Big Dance. She had two points, four rebounds and three assists last year in her tournament debut, a loss to perennial powerhouse Baylor.
Bryar Tronnier, Southern Utah: Another Centennial alum, the senior forward averages 1.3 points per game as a reserve for the Thunderbirds, who won the WAC last week in Las Vegas.
Eboni Walker, Ohio State: Once the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year at Centennial, Walker will debut in the NCAA Tournament as a senior forward who averaged 2.2 points in 14.4 minutes per game for the Buckeyes.
Desi-Rae Young, UNLV: Once a star at Desert Oasis and now one of the country’s most productive players, Young averages 18.2 points and 10.2 rebounds as a two-time all-conference pick and former Mountain West Player of the Year. She had 16 points and 11 rebounds last year in her NCAA Tournament debut.
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