weather icon Clear
RJ App
Vegas News, Alerts, ePaper

Lady Rebels set sights on NCAA Tournament’s automatic berth

UNLV women’s basketball coach Lindy La Rocque understands what’s at stake. She doesn’t want to leave the fate of her team in the hands of a panel.

The Lady Rebels, ranked No. 22 by The Associated Press, are preparing to begin the Mountain West tournament. They are the No. 1 seed after going unbeaten in the conference season — just the second undefeated campaign in MW history since it switched to an 18-game schedule.

But their season doesn’t guarantee them a berth in the NCAA Tournament. The Mountain West hasn’t sent two teams to the tournament since 2010. UNLV probably has to win the conference tournament to secure its spot in the field.

La Rocque doesn’t want to leave anything to chance.

“We want to do our job and secure our bid, our way,” she said.

UNLV (28-2) will begin the Mountain West tournament at noon Monday against No. 8 UNR (10-20) at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Lady Rebels beat the Wolf Pack twice during the regular season, including a 71-66 comeback win Feb. 28 in Reno. UNR defeated No. 9 Fresno State 65-53 in overtime Sunday to advance to the quarterfinal matchup.

While the Lady Rebels acknowledge the extra pressure, they say it’s nothing new. The reigning conference tournament champions know what it takes to win in this environment.

“We’re not being hunted; we’re actually doing the hunting,” junior center Desi-Rae Young said. “Everyone’s going for that championship. Everyone wants that one-way ticket to the NCAA (Tournament), and that’s what we’re all looking forward to.”

Senior wing Justice Ethridge said UNLV is going to continue thinking of each game as the most important. She said that attitude guided the Lady Rebels to an 18-0 conference record and a return to the AP rankings. Ethridge expects her team to keep the same focus and discipline this week.

“Everybody’s playing for the same goal,” she said. “Everybody wants to win the championship, so we just have to play our game.”

The Lady Rebels got extra motivation Sunday when the All-Mountain West awards were announced.

La Rocque was named coach of the year for the second time in three seasons. Sophomore guard Kiara Jackson was named Sixth Player of the Year, becoming the second consecutive UNLV player to win the award, following Nneka Obiazor.

Ethridge, Young and senior guard Essence Booker were all named to the All-Mountain West team. Ethridge and Young were also selected to the All-Defense team.

Young didn’t repeat as Player of the Year despite averaging 18.1 points, 10.1 rebounds and leading the conference in field-goal percentage. Colorado State guard McKenna Hofschild, the league’s leading scorer, won the award.

“(Young) is my player of the year — that’s all that matters,” Ethridge said. “She’s our player of the year. We’re not too worried about the outside noise or anybody else.”

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
UConn upends San Diego State for national championship

UConn won its fifth national title since 1999, but first since Dan Hurley was hired to bring back the program after its fall from grace.