UNLV beats San Diego State to win third straight Mountain West tournament

Kalin Sipes - The Sporting Tribune
UNLV women's basketball team completes another remarkable Mountain West campaign with a third consecutive conference tournament title.

LAS VEGAS –The UNLV Lady Rebels weathered a tough first half to win their third straight Mountain West tournament title, beating San Diego State 66-49 in Wednesday’s championship game. Coach Lindy La Rocque’s group outscored the Aztecs 46-29 in the second half after the teams entered halftime tied at 20.

The win marked the third consecutive season that the Lady Rebels have won both the conference tournament in addition to the league’s outright regular season title. It also means UNLV will have taken the Mountain West’s automatic bid in three of La Rocque’s first four seasons.

“I’m extremely proud and and happy for our group,” La Rocque said. “Winning is hard. Winning championships is really hard. Especially when you’re expected to, and this group handles it with grace, with commitment and willingness to doing whatever it takes. It takes a lot of sacrifice.”

San Diego State entered the game as -20.5 point underdogs, but played with a scrappiness in the first half that gave UNLV some trouble and allowed the Aztecs to hang on to a lead throughout the first and second quarters.

Desi-Rae Young specifically was battered in the post and on the defensive end by a diet of elbows and hacks, but she was still able to pace the team with six points and eight rebounds in the first half. The scrappiness almost boiled over at the halftime buzzer, when San Diego State’s Abby Prohaska attempted to charge at Alyssa Brown before being held back by her teammates.

Despite being tabbed as what can only be described as having essentially no chance to win this game by Vegas oddsmakers, San Diego State played their hand about as well as they could have in the first half. In the end, it still didn’t mean much unless you were a bettor who took the Lady Aztecs plus the points. And even that got close toward the end of the 17 point victory.

Despite the scrappy first half, Young was not impressed with San Diego State’s effort.

“Every time somebody plays us, they give us our their hardest game, but it’s not hard enough. We go out there and we just bust them every time,” she said. “I wish that we played Colorado State or Wyoming in the final game. That would have been a little bit more exciting than San Diego State. That’s just how I feel about it.”

After Prohaska’s dramatics toward the Lady Rebels to end the first half, it was hard to blame Young for the digs. When you come at the queen, you can’t get the doors blown off you in the second half. Especially when it happens in large part because the instigator herself couldn’t prevent Kiara Jackson from getting to the basket no matter what she did down the stretch.

The Lady Rebels knew it was just a matter of time before they found their offensive rhythm. The fans in the Mack didn’t seem too worried either. Their defense was everything it has been all year, which gave La Rocque confidence her team would eventually find buckets on the other end.

“I thought our defense was great (in the first half). That was the message (at halftime), our defense is awesome. We have to keep sticking with that,” La Rocque said. “Offensively, we had to settle in and attack the basket. I knew if we keep kept playing defense, then our offense would get going.”

UNLV guard Ashely Scoggin was, by advanced numbers, the biggest detriment on the floor for the Lady Rebels’ in the first half. In the second half, she was by far their biggest boost. She went on a torrid shooting run to carry the team in the second half and keep the aggressive Aztecs at bay. It was a performance far more akin to what the Vegas faithful expects to see out of the highly-touted transfer Scoggins, and her resiliency in finding it shocked no one.

She finished 13 points, 11 of which came in the second half. She shot 57% in the second half after going just 1-5 from the field in the first.

The stout second half performance by Scoggin and the Lady Rebels put to an end what as an admirable run for the seven-seeded San Diego State squad, who will all but certainly miss the NCAA tournament and have now played their last meaningful game of the season. They finish the season with a 22-13 record and will be able to hang their head with what was a fine conference tournament run.

For UNLV, their attention now turns to Selection Sunday. ESPNW’s Bracketology currently has them slated as the 9 seed in the Portland region, which probably won’t go over well on South Maryland Parkway. We’ll see what Selection Sunday has in store.