Sophomore forward Nneka Obiazor was named Mountain West Sixth Player of the Year Sunday. And on Monday, in UNLV’s 82-69 win against Air Force in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West tournament, Obiazor proved to be a worthy recipient of the award.
Her 20 points and nine rebounds off the bench led the top-seeded Lady Rebels, as she gave the offense a much needed boost.
“It’s a big spark, especially with (Obiazor) coming off the bench, we really needed that and we love her coming in and scoring right away,” Rooks said. “She’s definitely a big piece to our offense.”
Early on, UNLV struggled to convert on open layups, missing three in the first few minutes as Utah State jumped to a quick 9-2 lead.
“We got the shots we wanted,” head coach Lindy La Rocque said. “We missed three layups in the first three minutes. You can’t go crazy, you have to make a layup…The biggest thing I can do for them is to stay calm so they can get settled in.”
Obiazor came off the bench and scored six points in a span of 90 seconds to help UNLV take a 19-18 lead after the first quarter. In the second quarter, the Lady Rebels turned up the intensity on defense to grow their lead.
UNLV held Utah State to 3-of-16 shooting in the second quarter and scoreless the final 4:12 as UNLV took a 38-27 lead into the locker room. Defensively, UNLV forced nine Utah State turnovers that UNLV turned into 15 points.
After Utah State went on a 7-0 run early in the third quarter, UNLV responded with a 15-4 run with points from four different players to get back ahead by double-digits.
When Utah State cut UNLV’s lead to 59-53 early in the fourth quarter, UNLV answered back with a 9-0 run and never let Utah State get that close again. Six different Lady Rebels scored at least six points in the second half, as La Rocque was able to go to anyone when her team needed a basket.
“Our depth and talent of our team puts me in a good situation as a coach where I trust them,” La Rocque said. “I trust all of them. When they’re put in a situation and need to make a play, they can do it.”
Utah State held the Mountain West Player of the Year, Desi-Rae, to only 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting, with most of her points early coming from the free throw line. The Aggies double-teamed Young and made it a battle for her to score.
“We knew that they were going to come for our bigs,” junior guard Essence Booker said. “We continued to do what we do, and that’s feed the post, go inside, and we just had to make adjustments off that.”
Five total Lady Rebels scored in double-figures, with Rooks and Justice Ethridge scoring 11, and Booker adding 10 as UNLV held a 29-14 advantage in bench points.
La Rocque felt that her team had some “early game jitters,” early but is confident that will get put behind them for tomorrow’s semi final matchup.
She feels her team has to be better rebounding and keeping that intensity they had in the second quarter throughout the game, but she also knows advancing, by any means necessary, is what matters most.
“Best thing that happened was that we won the game,” La Rocque said. “That’s how you have to continue to advance at this point of the season.”
UNLV will play No. 5 seeded Air Force, a 75-60 winner over UNR, in the semifinals Tuesday night at 5 p.m. at the Thomas & Mack Center.