Lady Rebels win MW tournament, clinch NCAA Tournament bid
Junior center and Desert Oasis alum Desi-Rae Young led the Lady Rebels to a second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Updated March 8, 2023 - 10:25 pm
Desi-Rae Young wasn’t finished talking.
Purple and silver ribbons hung from the scoreboard, and her UNLV teammates celebrated behind her as the newly anointed Mountain West tournament MVP spoke about the group’s accomplishments.
The Lady Rebels are going back to the NCAA Tournament. Top-seeded UNLV (31-2), ranked No. 21 by The Associated Press, finished off a second straight Mountain West tournament title with a 71-60 victory over No. 2 Wyoming (22-10) on Wednesday at the Thomas &Mack Center.
But just as Young’s speech seemed to wind down, she grabbed the microphone back from the Mountain West presenter and addressed the crowd.
“It’s a parade inside my city,” she yelled into the mic, as her teammates broke out in laughter behind her.
The quote is the opening line to NBA YoungBoy’s song “Fresh Prince of Utah,” and while the Lady Rebels won’t have a parade yet, they are dancing again.
The victory clinches a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance for coach Lindy La Rocque and the Lady Rebels. It’s the first time UNLV has gone to consecutive tournaments since going three times in 1989-91. The Lady Rebels will find out where they’ll begin the NCAA Tournament when the bracket is revealed at 5 p.m. Sunday.
The Lady Rebels also won their 22nd consecutive game, the second-longest active winning streak in Division I women’s basketball, which ties the program’s record for consecutive wins.
“I’m just so incredibly proud of our team for doing whatever it takes,” La Rocque said. “They had a look in their eyes this morning, and I knew we were going to come away with this one.”
UNLV completed a perfect run through the conference, going 18-0 in the regular season before winning three straight in the tournament. Young scored 28 and had 17 rebounds Wednesday to claim the MVP award, and senior guard Essence Booker added 19 points.
The Lady Rebels, and sophomore Alyssa Durazo-Frescas in particular, got off to a hot start. The sophomore sharpshooter went 3-for-4 on 3-pointers in the first quarter for nine quick points after scoring zero points in 21 minutes against San Diego State in Tuesday’s semifinal.
But sloppy ball security by UNLV kept Wyoming close. The Lady Rebels committed eight turnovers before the break, which the Cowgirls turned into nine points, and UNLV entered halftime leading 31-28.
Just like they did against San Diego State, however, the Lady Rebels emerged from halftime with renewed focus, which turned into a 12-2 run to start the third quarter. They seemed to have the game under control, but the Cowgirls made five 3-pointers in a four-minute span to keep within striking distance.
“That was their best punch,” La Rocque said. “And we weathered the storm well.”
Wyoming had no answer for Young. The Desert Oasis alum was unstoppable on the low block, punishing double teams, grabbing offensive rebounds and imposing her will on the Cowgirls’ defense. She scored eight points in the fourth quarter to finish off the win, and Booker made her free throws to slam the door on Wyoming.
Now, they have their sights set on the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re coming in with an aggression we didn’t have much last year,” Young said. “We want it this year.”
Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at email@example.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.