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Oddsmakers show respect to Lady Rebels entering NCAA Tournament

When the UNLV women’s basketball team made the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time in 20 years, it wasn’t given much respect from oddsmakers.

The Lady Rebels were 14½-point road underdogs at fourth-seeded Arizona but stayed close into the fourth quarter and covered in a 72-67 loss.

Sportsbooks appeared to have learned their lesson, as 11th-seeded UNLV enters its first-round tournament matchup against No. 6 Michigan as a consensus 3½-point underdog.

The total for the game, which is Friday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, ranges from 136 at Station Casinos to 137½ at Circa Sports.

“They come into the tournament on one of the longest winning streaks in the country … (and) Michigan kind of limped into the tournament,” Red Rock Resort sportsbook director Chuck Esposito said. “The big thing is just strength of schedule and Michigan playing in the Big Ten is definitely tested. But it’s still a relatively low point spread.”

UNLV (31-2) swept the Mountain West regular-season and tournament titles and enters on a 22-game win streak. The Lady Rebels are led by center Desi-Rae Young, who averages 18.2 points and 10.2 rebounds, and guard Essence Booker (13.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 4.0 assists).

Michigan (22-9) lost four of its past six games against a rugged Big Ten schedule. The Wolverines welcomed back leading scorers Leigha Brown (18.0) and Laila Phelia (16.9) for the conference tournament and are expected to be at full strength Friday.

This is only the second opponent from a Power Five conference the Lady Rebels have faced this season. UNLV lost 87-62 at Oklahoma State, which is a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The teams have a common opponent in Air Force. UNLV beat the Falcons 98-57 on the road Feb. 4, while the Wolverines won 68-48 on a neutral floor in November.

UNLV is a 1,000-1 long shot at Circa Sports and the Westgate SuperBook to win the national championship. Station has the Lady Rebels at 150-1 after being bet down from 250-1.

“We’ve seen action on the Lady Rebels in the game,” Esposito said. “We’ve definitely seen action on them at 250-1 to win the women’s (tournament). Our guests definitely have found it on the app and are backing the Lady Rebels in both cases.”

South Carolina is a prohibitive -200 favorite at most Las Vegas sportsbooks to win its second straight title. Indiana and Stanford are the 9-1 second choices at the SuperBook, with Connecticut at 10-1. Iowa and Louisiana State are next at 20-1.

“There is a glaring difference,” Esposito said. “You almost could put up quasi South Carolina versus the field and include everyone else. That’s how dominant they’ve been with their top player in (Aliyah) Boston.”

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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