The UNLV women’s basketball team is expected to be one of the favorites in the Mountain West this season, and understandably so.
The Lady Rebels return their top six scorers from last season, when they won the conference regular-season and tournament titles and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
As coach Lindy La Rocque begins her third season at UNLV, she said she wants her team to embrace having a target on its back and let last season’s achievements serve as motivation to stay on top.
“Having a taste of that success, the NCAA Tournament and Mountain West championship, makes us greedy to fight for that again,” La Rocque said. “We want to really protect it and want to get back there.”
UNLV began official practices Monday. The Lady Rebels return nine players from last year’s team that went 26-7 and earned a No. 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament before falling to No. 4 Arizona 72-67 in the first round.
To get back to the NCAAs, the Lady Rebels are emphasizing the importance of staying mentally and emotionally focused. In practice, La Rocque is challenging her players to battle through tough situations now to help them execute later in games.
“We want to work through adversity,” junior center Desi-Rae Young said. “Working through when we’re tired and fatigued, we have to remember that we want to win another championship and we have to put our all in now before the season starts.”
Young was second on the team in scoring at 15.2 points per game last season, just behind point guard Essence Booker (15.5).
Booker, a Spring Valley High School graduate, said the expectations have been raised and this season will have its challenges as everyone looks to dethrone the Lady Rebels. The senior said she learned last season that as the point guard, she plays a crucial role to making UNLV go.
“I can’t have a bad day, because everyone is depending on me to be there and show up,” Booker said. “When I don’t show up, it’s going to affect other people on my team.”
A point of emphasis for Booker this season is making sure UNLV doesn’t lose its focus during games. The Lady Rebels were too casual at times last season, and that almost cost them some games, she said.
“We can’t get comfortable,” Booker said. “We won last year and did a lot of great things, but that’s out the window now. We celebrated it, and now we have to focus on this year.”
As the Lady Rebels prepare for the regular season, they are also preparing for a time when they will be without their coach. La Rocque is expecting her first child in late November.
La Rocque said she’ll continue to coach until she has to step away, and she plans to return before the end of the season. She said she anticipates the program will maintain its high expectations while she’s out.
“It’s really going to take a village, and I’m glad I have a really strong tightknit village here and community members, players, members of the staff, of administration behind me personally,” La Rocque said.
UNLV opens its season Nov. 7 against Pepperdine at Cox Pavilion.