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Lady Rebels on path to more titles: ‘We’re right where we want to be’

Lindy La Rocque’s recipe for success in the Mountain West is straightforward.

The UNLV women’s basketball coach allowed center Desi-Rae Young to be the offensive focal point, leaned on good guard play and relied on depth the past two seasons. La Rocque’s methods have been validated by two consecutive conference regular-season and tournament championships.

More trophies and another NCAA Tournament appearance are in the No. 25 Lady Rebels’ sights halfway through her fourth season with the team.

“We’re right where we want to be,” La Rocque said.

UNLV looks like the best team in the Mountain West for a third straight season. The Lady Rebels are 14-1 overall and 4-0 in conference play entering Wednesday’s 11 a.m. game at San Diego State.

They picked up the first Power 5 win of La Rocque’s career in a 72-53 thrashing of Arizona on Dec. 2, then beat Oklahoma 92-76 on the road a week later. UNLV’s only stumble came in an 84-54 loss at Seton Hall. Both La Rocque and Young felt it was a good lesson for the team.

La Rocque’s squad hasn’t lost a Mountain West game since March 2, 2022, when the Lady Rebels fell 71-64 against UNR. UNLV’s winning streak is 28 in conference play if one includes tournament games.

“I think we’re in a good spot,” Young said. “We always have something to improve on, so as we continue to grow we just continue to get better.”

Young has been as good as expected in her senior season. The former Desert Oasis star is averaging a career-best 19.5 points per game on 56 percent shooting. She’s also averaging 8.7 rebounds. She said she’s trying to be more accountable to her teammates and more selective with her shots in what may be her final season of college basketball.

Joining Young as a standout is junior guard Kiara Jackson, the reigning Mountain West sixth player of the year. Jackson has stepped seamlessly into the starting role All-Mountain West guard Essence Booker vacated upon her eligibility expiring.

Jackson is averaging 12.7 points and 5.3 assists per game. She’s also shooting 46 percent from the field and 48.6 percent from 3. All are career bests.

The Grand Prairie, Texas, native, along with fellow juniors Alyssa Durazo-Frescas and Alyssa Brown, have helped turn the Lady Rebels’ starting lineup into a juggernaut. UNLV has outscored its opponents by 20.8 points per game this season.

The team has also answered some key questions.

Depth was one potential weak spot with Jackson and Brown becoming starters. La Rocque found answers in unexpected places.

Senior forward Nneka Obiazor, the 2021-22 Mountain West sixth player of the year, returned from a knee injury that cost her all of last season to become an impactful player off the bench. Sixth-year Ashley Scoggin recovered from a knee injury of her own to join the rotation.

Freshman guard Amarachi Kimpson’s emergence is perhaps the most intriguing development for the Lady Rebels. She’s providing a spark off the bench by averaging 6.6 points on 42.7 percent shooting. Young said Kimpson already plays like a second-year player. La Rocque believes Kimpson “has no ceiling.”

“She has all the skills to be a great player,” La Rocque said. “She’s made big-time plays and shots already in her young career. And I’m greedy. I get after her more than anyone sometimes and I’m like — I’ve got to remind myself she’s a freshman.”

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

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