In the UNLV women’s basketball team’s first test of the season, the Lady Rebels dominated inside against Arizona to build a 20-point halftime lead on the Pac-12 opponent.
As Arizona slowly tried to chip away at the deficit to begin the second half and UNLV’s offense started to stall, junior point guard Kiara Jackson gave the Lady Rebels a much-needed spark.
Jackson scored 17 of her 21 points in the second half as UNLV comfortably held on to a double-digit advantage the rest of the way and rolled to a 72-53 win against Arizona on Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center in front of an announced crowd of 3,953.
The win is UNLV’s first against a Power Five opponent since a 56-53 home win against Florida on Dec. 21, 2018.
“This is a good measuring stick game of the level and types of teams, that we not just want to compete with, but beat,” UNLV coach Lindy La Rocque said. “It doesn’t win us a championship, but (a win like) this helps.”
Senior center Desi-Rae Young scored 21 points on 50 percent shooting and grabbed nine rebounds for UNLV (8-0). Jackson made nine of 16 shots and added seven assists in the teams’ first meeting since the first round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament, when Arizona held on for a 72-67 win in Tucson.
“With Kiara and Desi, I’m pretty confident in our group to get organized because we have great players around them that make shots,” La Rocque said. “Alyssa Durazo-Frescas and Jasmyn Lott gave us great minutes. From top to bottom, I’m just really proud of our team’s buy-in to be committed to do whatever it takes.”
Arizona (6-2) got within 14 points early late in the fourth quarter, but Jackson scored seven third-quarter points and UNLV’s first six points of the fourth to keep control of the game.
“We showed a lot of poise and maturity to weather the storm and battle back,” La Rocque said. “It was all Kiara. She handled the pressure, got our team organized and made some big plays and shots. She just keeps getting every game.”
UNLV attacked inside early, with Young scoring 10 first-quarter points, and led 22-13 after the first quarter while shooting 52.9 percent from the field. The Lady Rebels scored 14 points in the paint and grabbed 11 rebounds in the first quarter.
Lott scored four of UNLV’s first eight points in the second quarter as its lead grew to double digits. Arizona went over four minutes without a made field goal to start the quarter.
UNLV made three 3-pointers in the final 4:10 of the second quarter to take a 40-20 halftime lead. Arizona shot 25.9 percent from the field and made 1 of 11 3-pointers in the first half.
“We did a terrific job rebounding, and it was all about taking care of the ball,” La Rocque said. “We’ve been one of the best in the country at taking care of the ball and limiting our turnovers. To only have 12 against a team that is bigger, stronger and plays pressure defense, I’m really proud of our group.”
Kailyn Gilbert scored 21 points to lead Arizona, and Esmery Martinez added 14 points and 11 rebounds.
UNLV next plays at Big 12 opponent Oklahoma at noon Dec. 9. The rest of the month includes road games at Seton Hall (Dec. 16) and Fairleigh Dickinson before UNLV begins Mountain West play Dec. 30 when it hosts Utah State.
“We’ve got to travel and give the same effort and fight and execution that we did today on the road because it’s going to be tougher,” La Rocque said.