Defending Mountain West champion Lady Rebels begin practice

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UNLV senior guard Essence Booker looks to score against Colorado State in the 2022 Mountain West Tournament last March. Photo by Jordan Anders-McClain.

The UNLV women’s basketball team began practice earlier this week as they look to build off last year’s successful season.

The Lady Rebels won both the Mountain West regular-season and tournament championships for the first time in program history. 

UNLV finished with a 26-7 record, their most wins in nearly three decades and earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 20 years.

Entering her third season, Lady Rebels head coach Lindy La Rocque understands her team will have to do things a little bit differently as they expect everyone’s best shots as one of the favorites in the Mountain West.

“I think we are definitely aware that we have different challenges this year,” La Rocque said. “We’re in a different starting spot. Obviously, we are the defending champions of the league, which we know and everyone else knows.”

While La Rocque believes that they have to do things differently, she said they aren’t going to be extremely changing their formula that helped them have success last season. So it’s going to be a little bit of sticking to what they’ve done that’s worked but also staying sharp and guarding what they have.

After two seasons, La Rocque started to lay the foundation down for a winning program at UNLV. It starts with her players, whom La Rocque said she trusts entirely, and her players buying into her system.  

But the players know that after finding success, there is a feeling of urgency to keep the wins coming.

“There’s definitely a target, but I think we’ve finally realized at the end of the day, it’s not who we play against,” junior forward Nneka Obiazor said. “It’s just showing up the best we can with each other and then it’s just literally us versus us every single day in that practice.”

La Rocque has been very heavy on the players by saying that at the end of the day, how they’re going to get through the season, is by working together. She said last year they showed they have the skill and talent to win, but working on the little things will make the biggest difference.

La Rocque has seen her players work hard and she believes that it’s a privilege to be in the spot that they’re at. She’s made it known to her team that they need to guard that and really value it.

The team is expecting to get back into the NCAA tournament and this time improve on their successes from the previous year. Reclaiming the Mountain West championship, while a challenge, could be less of a daunting task, as the Lady Rebels return nine players.

But winning a game or two in the NCAA tournament would prove to be a huge leap forward for the program.

At the end of the day, the Lady Rebels need to do everything they can to stay locked in. That point was emphasized by senior guard Essence Booker, who understands her importance as UNLV’s point guard.

“I promised myself I wouldn’t have any bad days,” Booker said. “And I just want to have fun. I feel like if I have fun, we’re going to be successful.”

Booker is someone to keep an eye on this year. Not just for her excellent play, but also the way she leads this year’s team. It’ll be interesting to see if the Lady Rebels can continue their rise of success. All eyes will be on the Lady Rebels to see if they can carry on their success from last year.

UNLV opens its 2022-23 season Nov. 7 against Pepperdine at 7 p.m. at Cox Pavilion. The Lady Rebels will also host a preseason open practice on Oct. 29.

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