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La Rocque shakes up lineup, Lady Rebels start 1-0 in Mountain West

UNLV sophomore guard Kiara Jackson admitted she felt some nerves ahead of Thursday’s 73-67 win against Wyoming.

Lady Rebels coach Lindy La Rocque decided to make a lineup change, handing Jackson, the 5-foot-7-inch Grand Prairie, Texas, native her second career start in the Mountain West opener.

Jackson only found out she was starting before practice Wednesday. As soon as she touched the ball on UNLV’s first possession, though, Jackson let her instincts take control.

“I was excited,” she said. “I felt like I’d earned it because I worked hard in practice.”

Jackson thrived in her new role, leading UNLV with 20 points in the victory at Cox Pavilion. Junior center Desi-Rae Young and fifth-year guard Justice Ethridge had 13 points each, and sophomore guard Kenadee Winfrey added 11.

UNLV (11-2, 1-0) next hosts Colorado State at 3 p.m. Saturday.

Jackson’s “a really good player, a young player,” La Rocque said. “I’m just extremely proud of her. She’s put in a ton of work, she’s doing what we’re asking, and it’s paying off.”

La Rocque’s decision to insert Jackson into the starting five bumped 2021-22 All-Mountain West guard Essence Booker to the bench. The senior has struggled with her 3-pointer this season, and entered Thursday just 5-for-33 (15.2 percent) from long range.

It’s the first time the Las Vegas native and former Spring Valley standout has come off the bench in her UNLV career.

“Essence is a leader for us,” La Rocque said. “She’s a senior, and her sacrifice tonight was huge. That’s a tough pill to swallow, but we’re going to need her.”

The Lady Rebels fell behind early, as the Cowgirls (7-5, 0-1) made their first three shots, all 3-pointers. However, UNLV’s defense forced 10 turnovers in the first half that the Lady Rebels turned into 11 points.

UNLV also kept Wyoming center and reigning Mountain West freshman of the year Allyson Fertig quiet. She got into foul trouble in the first quarter and played just 16 minutes, scoring four points.

La Rocque praised Young’s post defense for limiting Wyoming’s forward rotation, and the junior center had four steals and eight rebounds to go with her 13 points.

Booker entered the game as the first player off the bench and immediately provided a spark. She missed her only attempted 3 of the first half, but began aggressively hunting her midrange shot and added four quick points. She finished the game with six points in 15 minutes.

The Lady Rebels built a lead in the second quarter, and Jackson’s 3 from the left corner just before the buzzer gave UNLV a 33-25 lead at the break.

Wyoming responded, and the Cowgirls won the third quarter 27-14, going 4-for-4 from 3 and adding seven free throws to retake the lead 52-47 ahead of the final 10 minutes.

Jackson helped UNLV finish strong. She converted a three-point play with 5:30 remaining and scored 11 points down the stretch, including five free throws.

“She’s maybe quiet or unassuming on the court,” La Rocque said, “but she’s a killer.”

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

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