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UNLV falls short at Arizona, eliminated from NCAA Tournament

Updated March 20, 2022 - 3:14 pm

TUCSON, Ariz. — Making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in two decades, No. 13 seed UNLV and sophomore Desi-Rae Young took No. 4 Arizona all the way to the wire Saturday night. However, it wasn’t enough, as the Lady Rebels lost 72-67 and were eliminated in the first round. The UNLV women haven’t won a tournament game or advanced past the first round since 1991.

“Extremely proud of our group,” UNLV coach Lindy La Rocque said. “Obviously this one stings pretty bad, but we’re going to use that as fuel to the fire because this is where we belong.”

Playing in front of a large crowd, UNLV came out hot. Operating out of the high post, UNLV used the attention Young received from the Arizona defense to create open backdoor cuts for its guards.

However, Arizona’s size started to become a factor once Young checked out and a full-court press allowed the Wildcats to get back in the game. Young’s return kept UNLV in the lead, however, and she helped put Arizona’s leading scorer, senior Cate Reese, in early foul trouble.

UNLV’s second unit played well to start the second quarter, especially as sophomore Nneka Obiazor started to find her rhythm in the post with her left-handed hook shot. But Arizona began chipping away at the UNLV lead. The Wildcats went on a 9-2 run, triggered by a 3-pointer from senior Shaina Pellington to pull within two.

Arizona’s 3-point shooting kept it in the game. The Wildcats shot 42.9 percent from deep in the first half. The Lady Rebels were efficient too. They made 53.8 percent from the field but didn’t make a single 3-pointer during the first 20 minutes. UNLV also committed seven turnovers.

Free throws with three seconds remaining in the half by senior Bendu Yeaney gave Arizona its first lead of the game, 31-29, at halftime.

The Lady Rebels continued to hang around in the third quarter. Young kept putting pressure on the rim, but the Wildcats kept junior Essence Booker quiet. UNLV found some range from freshman Alyssa Durazo-Frescas, who hit two 3-pointers from the right corner and banked in a 3-pointer from the right wing to keep UNLV ahead.

With a quarter remaining, UNLV had a five-point lead. Two quick turnovers, which Arizona converted into four points, erased the deficit. Missing Obiazor for a majority of the second half after injury her right knee, the Lady Rebels were outscored 24-14 in the fourth quarter. Young fouled out with two-and-a-half minutes remaining.

Young finished with 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds. Obiazor scored 13 and Durazo-Frescas had 11 points, including a 3-for-5 night from 3-point range.

Pellington led all scorers with 30 points and Reese added 16 to carry most of the load for Arizona.

“Desi had that look in her eye, ‘I’m going to do whatever it takes,’” La Rocque said. “Rebounding, obviously scoring and just being physical. She was really good tonight.”

Arizona will advance to the next round where it will play No. 5 North Carolina. UNLV’s season is over, but with Mountain West regular-season and tournament championships, as well as an NCAA Tournament appearance on its resume, the Lady Rebels have a lot to build on next season.

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

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