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‘Next step’: Lady Rebels out to end 33-year NCAA drought — PHOTOS FROM LA

LOS ANGELES — UNLV women’s basketball coach Lindy La Rocque remembers, vaguely, what she was doing in 1991.

“In 1991,” La Rocque said, “I was 2 years old.”

The significance of that year? It was the last time the Lady Rebels won an NCAA Tournament game.

UNLV (30-2), ranked No. 20 by the Associated Press, has a chance to snap its 33-year drought Saturday.

The No. 10-seeded Lady Rebels face No. 7 Creighton (25-5) at 4 p.m. at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“We’ve broken a lot of records or done a lot of things in the last couple years that haven’t been done in 20 years,” La Rocque said. “It would be big for our program to continue to take the next step. We’ve made great strides in the last couple of years, and we’re continuing to build on that. This is the next step of the ladder.”

If UNLV wins, it faces the winner of No. 2 UCLA and No. 15 California Baptist in a second-round game Monday.

“It would be huge, especially since 1991 was a long time ago,” senior center Desi-Rae Young said. “Being here in 2024, it would be great to get a win.”

In 1991, the Lady Rebels, as a No. 8 seed, defeated No. 9 Texas Tech 70-65 in a first-round game in Las Vegas for their last tournament win. They lost to No. 1 seed Georgia 86-62 in the second round and finished No. 17 in the final AP poll, which was the last time they finished a season ranked.

“It would be amazing to get this first win as a team (since 1991) and get Coach Lindy her first NCAA Tournament win as a coach,” junior point guard Kiara Jackson said.

In La Rocque’s fourth season, UNLV is in its third straight NCAA Tournament. The program has become the standard in the Mountain West, winning the last three conference titles.

The Lady Rebels have won 102 games in La Rocque’s four seasons. It’s not lost on La Rocque that adding a win from the NCAA Tournament is the next step for the program.

“We’re not the pinnacle or where we want to be when it’s all said and done. The next step is to win in the tournament,” La Rocque said. “I think we’re more prepared now than we’ve ever been.”

Last year as a No. 11 seed, UNLV lost to No. 6 Michigan 71-59 in a first-round game in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In 2022, No. 13-seeded UNLV lost to No. 4 Arizona 72-67 in Tucson.

La Rocque said that even last year, the group’s second time in the NCAA Tournament, a lot of things felt like “the first time” with the long travel across the country.

“We’re not surprised by getting caught off-guard with things,” La Rocque said.

To better prepare for a tournament run, UNLV added power conference opponents Arizona and Oklahoma, both NCAA Tournament teams, and won both games by double digits.

La Rocque said the combination of experiences from the last two seasons has her confident UNLV will be ready Saturday.

“We’re pretty comfortable, but not in a bad way,” La Rocque said. “We know we belong, and we want to keep playing.”

UNLV faces a Creighton team that starts five seniors. All of the Bluejays’ starters were part of the team’s Elite Eight run in 2022. Three players average at least 15 points per game.

“We just have to play hard,” Young said. “That’s our whole mindset, and take this as a championship game. We’ve harped on that all year.”

While La Rocque said she’s aware of the potentially history-making moment, she said she hasn’t been making Saturday’s game bigger than what it is.

“It’s another game. It’s a big game, sure, but we don’t have to do anything that we haven’t done all year long,” La Rocque said. “We have to play hard, play together, fight for and with each other, and the moment piece will take care of itself.”

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

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