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Las Vegas standouts to settle old score in women’s Sweet 16 game

If their past meetings in Las Vegas are any indication, Saturday’s Sweet 16 showdown in the women’s NCAA Tournament between Lindy La Rocque’s second-ranked Stanford and Italee Lucas’ No. 14 North Carolina should be a thriller.

The Spokane (Wash.) Region semifinal game, which ESPN2 will televise at 8:30 p.m., will also serve as a personal rubber match between the starting shooting guards and former local prep stars — who split a pair of meetings here in middle school and high school.

“Every time we’ve played each other, they’ve always been great games,” said La Rocque, a junior.

Before La Rocque starred at Durango and Lucas at Centennial, the pair of 5-foot-8-inch sharpshooters squared off in middle school, with Lucas leading Cram past Grant Sawyer in the Clark County School District semifinals.

“I can remember it. It came down to the last possession,” La Rocque said. “I think Italee made a shot with 10 seconds left (for the lead) and we came down and I ended up missing a 3 for the win.”

But La Rocque evened the score in high school, when her Trailblazers handed the Bulldogs a rare home loss in the title game of their holiday tournament.

“It was a last-possession game, and we pulled it out,” she said. “I think (Lucas) had 35 and I had 33.”

While La Rocque and Lucas are little more than Facebook friends, their fathers — former Durango boys basketball coach Al La Rocque and former Rancho star Lamar Lucas, a local fireman — are longtime friends who about 30 years ago played against each other in a Las Vegas men’s league.

“I’ve known her dad forever,” Lindy La Rocque said. “He’s always been a big supporter of mine, and we’ve always supported Italee.

“Definitely, at the game, I’ll give her a hug and say hello.”

Lucas, who was unavailable for comment, led Centennial to state titles in 2004 and 2005 and was named the state’s Class 4A Player of the Year in 2007, the year she graduated.

The senior is leading the Tar Heels (28-8) in scoring for the second straight season, with 16 points per game, and had a team-high 22 points in each of North Carolina’s two tourney wins.

“She’s a great player. She’ll definitely be a focus for our defense,” said La Rocque, who expects to guard Lucas at some point Saturday. “She’s an outstanding shooter from all kinds of range and is extremely quick.

“If you play her out too far, she can drive around you, but if you back off too much, she can shoot it in your face.”

So can La Rocque, who once made 11 3s in a game for Durango and graduated in 2008 as the state’s all-time leading girls scorer (2,678 points).

La Rocque sank two of the biggest 3-pointers of her life Dec. 30, when she helped spark Stanford (31-2) to a 71-59 victory over top-ranked Connecticut (34-1) that ended the Huskies’ NCAA-record 90-game winning streak.

“That was a big confidence booster in me,” said La Rocque, who has made 39.2 percent (31 of 79) of her 3s this season.

Saturday’s game — which could be the last for Lucas before she turns pro — will be La Rocque’s third this season against a former Las Vegas standout.

In November, Stanford beat Rutgers, which features former Cheyenne star Monique Oliver, and Texas, which features former Bishop Gorman star Ashley Gayle.

“It’s always nice to see a familiar face on the court, even if it’s on the other team,” La Rocque said.

If top-seeded Stanford can knock off the fifth-seeded Tar Heels, it’ll be one win away from a familiar place — its fourth straight Final Four — but with no titles to show for it.

“We’re starting to get a little bitter,” La Rocque said. “We want to win it all now.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.

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