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Lady Rebels reflect on ‘incredible season’ that ended too soon

Updated March 25, 2024 - 10:01 am

LOS ANGELES — Lindy La Rocque said this year felt different.

The UNLV women’s basketball coach led her team to a third straight NCAA Tournament in her fourth season. She wanted the Lady Rebels’ first win in the event since 1991.

Instead, those dreams will have to wait.

UNLV lost 87-73 to Creighton in the first round Saturday at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. The Lady Rebels (30-3) proved once again this season they’re one of the top mid-major programs in the country with a third straight Mountain West regular-season and tournament title.

But there was one goal they could not achieve.

“This one loss doesn’t sour an incredible season,” La Rocque said. “To win 30 games in back-to-back years, it’s really special. Really, really special and it’s really hard to do. I’m incredibly proud of our group. … Yeah, we’re sad, but we have to recognize and appreciate just a phenomenal year.”

UNLV, ranked No. 20 by The Associated Press, was confident this was the year it could break through.

The Lady Rebels lost in the first round as a No. 13 seed in 2022 and as a No. 11 seed in 2023. They were a No. 10 seed against the Bluejays and believed their experience would help them get over the hump.

No. 7 Creighton, however, made 15 of its 34 3-pointers. The challenge proved too tough for UNLV.

“This group felt different. So it hurts,” La Rocque said. “I really wanted it for them. They wanted it really bad. The problem is we don’t get a redo. I’d like to play Creighton tomorrow, but we don’t. That’s not how it works.”

She paused as tears filled her eyes.

“Just sad,” La Rocque said, her voice cracking.

There were reasons to expect the Lady Rebels could go on a run.

Junior Kiara Jackson stepped in as the starting point guard and earned All-Mountain West honors. Freshman Amarachi Kimpson made an impact off the bench. Center Desi-Rae Young cemented her legacy as one of the best players in program history after being named the conference player of the year for the second time.

UNLV tested itself against a pair of NCAA Tournament teams early in the season and passed with flying colors.

The Lady Rebels defeated Arizona 72-53 on Dec. 2 and bested Oklahoma 92-76 on Dec. 9. Their only loss in nonconference play came on the road against Seton Hall on Dec. 16.

UNLV’s lone stumble during its Mountain West schedule was a 69-66 loss to New Mexico on Jan. 20. It was its first loss to a conference foe in 29 games.

The Lady Rebels then went on a 15-game winning streak heading into Saturday’s matchup with Creighton.

“Obviously we’re upset, but we can’t forget what we did this year,” Jackson said. “We had a great season, so we’ve got to remember that and we’ll be ready next year.”

Young scored 30 points in the loss in her final game at UNLV.

She became the second player in program history to surpass 2,000 career points with 2,017. Linda Frohlich finished with 2,355.

“I’m extremely happy and extremely proud of everything that we’ve done,” Young said. “Being able to let the younger group come in and play out here and let them experience this because they will be back here next year.”

The Lady Rebels still have much to look forward to despite Saturday’s disappointment.

Kimpson, the Mountain West’s sixth player and freshman of the year, can help fill the void Young will leave behind.

A key core of juniors also return in Jackson, forward Alyssa Brown, guard Alyssa Durazo-Frescas and reserve forward Nneka Obiazor.

UNLV is well positioned for a fourth straight Mountain West title. It should have another chance to pick up its first NCAA Tournament win in more than 30 years next season.

“We’ve got a whole locker room of players and people that are just great humans first and good basketball players that trust and believe in me and this program and do anything that I ask,” La Rocque said. “Yeah, we’re sad, but we have to recognize and appreciate just a phenomenal year.”

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

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