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Graney: Creighton far superior in rout of Lady Rebels

Updated March 24, 2024 - 10:32 am

LOS ANGELES

Live by the 3 … win by the 3.

And if you’re the UNLV women’s basketball team, lose by it.

The Lady Rebels for a third straight year Saturday were bounced from the NCAA Tournament in the first round. This time, a Creighton side that was deadly from distance easily took care of business by an 87-73 final at Pauley Pavilion on the campus of UCLA.

“They deserved to win,” UNLV coach Lindy La Rocque said. “They played better than us, so you have to give respect to that and give them their due. But for us, this one loss doesn’t sour an incredible season.”

This one, however, has to hurt the most of the last three attempts to get over that opening-round hurdle. To try and become the first UNLV women’s team to win such a contest since 1991.

It has to hurt more than Arizona two years ago and Michigan last season. It has to hurt more given how much seventh-seeded Creighton controlled the game, the action, the pace, the scoreboard.

The closest No. 10 seed UNLV got to in the second half was 10 points.

It never felt like a big enough run was in the Lady Rebels. Never felt like Creighton wouldn’t win.

Struggled mightily

You can’t discount how far UNLV (30-3) has come under La Rocque over four seasons. The Lady Rebels have won 61 games the past two years. They’re the first program in Mountain West history to win three straight regular-season and conference tournament titles. That’s hard to do.

But they struggled mightily dealing with Creighton’s five-out motion offense. Colorado State plays some of it in the Mountain West. Wyoming, too. But neither are Creighton. Not close.

The Bluejays (26-5) had 23 assists on 31 baskets. They cut and screened and moved and passed. They would make — get this — 15 of 34 3s.

“I guess that means I was a shooting coach this week,” Creighton coach Jim Flanery said.

Look. Creighton is hardly your traditional team in how it attacks an opponent. It can be a tough scout. But much of what happened Saturday was on UNLV.

La Rocque is correct in saying her team’s transition defense wasn’t up to par. That it allowed the Bluejays far too many open looks. And they made them. Boy, did they ever shoot it well.

Lauren Jensen even made a half-court shot at the end of the second quarter that came just after the horn and didn’t count. About the only thing that didn’t go right for Creighton.

UNLV just didn’t play well at the defensive end. Didn’t find shooters. Didn’t get back. Didn’t do enough to have a chance.

This is how much Creighton was in control: UNLV senior star Desi-Rae Young scored 30 points on 15-of-19 shooting. And the Bluejays never doubled her inside. They were content to play from ahead. To let UNLV score 2s and not 3s, of which it was just 5-of-20. To let Young get hers.

And they still won comfortably.

“Just needed to get more stops,” Young said. “That’s what we had to do. We tried our hardest.”

Scaling the hurdle

There was 2:16 remaining in a game UNLV had long since lost when Young made her way to the sidelines. She stopped and embraced La Rocque. Across the court, a throng of red stood to cheer the departing senior.

There is March Madness.

This was March Sadness.

“Not that our other (NCAA) teams weren’t special and didn’t deserve to win, but this year and this group felt different,” an emotional La Rocque said afterward. “So it hurts. I really wanted it for them, and they wanted it really bad. Obviously, you don’t get a redo. I’d like to play Creighton tomorrow, but that’s not how it works.”

So they continue to try and scale that hurdle, get over the hump, take the next step as a program. To reach this point and win.

It wasn’t going to occur Saturday.

The other team was just a whole lot better.

Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.

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