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Freshman helps Lady Rebels return to March Madness: ‘I’m excited’

Updated March 20, 2024 - 8:34 pm

Amarachi Kimpson, like most of her UNLV women’s basketball teammates, was at the the NCAA Tournament last year.

The freshman was only there as a fan.

The standout Texas high school basketball player attended the 2023 Final Four in Dallas, watching Iowa defeat then-unbeaten South Carolina 77-73 in a national semifinal.

Kimpson gets to be on the court this time. She played a key role in the Lady Rebels winning their third straight Mountain West regular-season and tournament titles.

No. 10 UNLV (30-2) will take on No. 7 Creighton (25-5) at 4 p.m. Saturday in a first-round matchup at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles.

“It’s an amazing environment. It’s so good to now be a part of it, too,” Kimpson said, “It was very crazy to see the sold-out crowd.”

Kimpson’s emergence has been huge for UNLV, which is ranked No. 20 by The Associated Press.

She was named the Mountain West’s freshman of the year and sixth player of the year earlier this month. She appeared in all 32 of the Lady Rebels’ games, averaging nine points per game in 20.7 minutes.

“The confidence that our team has in her is through the roof, and she doesn’t try to do anything outside of her skill set,” UNLV coach Lindy La Rocque said. “She doesn’t try to do anything super special, but in turn, she makes big plays for us just doing what she does.”

La Rocque hasn’t been afraid to put the ball in the Kimpson’s hands late in games. That’s because the freshman has delivered.

Kimpson scored a game-high 18 points in the Mountain West semifinals against Colorado State and had several crucial fourth-quarter baskets in UNLV’s 62-52 win.

“We watch (Kimpson) and (junior point guard) Kiara Jackson go after each other in practice every day,” junior forward Alyssa Brown said. “We have full trust in (Kimpson). We know she’s a great playmaker. We like to feed off each other, so when she’s making plays, it opens stuff up in the post for us and just makes the offense a lot of fun.”

Kimpson found success throughout the season in isolation plays. She also fit in well next to Jackson at times, giving the Lady Rebels a dangerous guard duo for stretches.

“For our style of play, I love playing two point guards at a time,” La Rocque said. “It’s like having two or three brains out there. Both (Kimpson) and Kiara have the ability to not just play on the ball, but off the ball. And I think it really helps them both and take a little of the pressure off of each other.

“(Kimpson) just continued to get better and grow into her own as a player.”

Kimpson’s role could become even more important in the years to come.

Jackson led UNLV in minutes this season after winning the sixth player of the year award last year. Kimpson should be in line for additional responsibility as well to keep the Lady Rebels in pursuit of more Mountain West titles and NCAA Tournament appearances.

“It’s amazing to be a part of my first year. I’m excited,” Kimpson said. “I’m always smiling, whether that’s on the court or anything. It’s a great environment to be in, so why not be happy?”

Contact Alex Wright at awright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlexWright1028 on X.

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