UNLV women’s basketball team rolls past Pepperdine in season opener

UNLV women’s basketball senior guard Essence Booker said there’s a difference between head coach Lindy La Rocque and associate head coach Roman Owen.

She admits Owen is more fiery on the sidelines but said that’s what the team needs.

“He’s very aggressive,” Booker said. “He just wants to win. He’s very passionate, and I felt like it rubbed off on us and we carried that into the game.”

Despite not having La Rocque — who announced on Sunday she had given birth to her first child — the Lady Rebels didn’t miss a beat. The reigning Mountain West champions rolled past Pepperdine 80-58 in their season opener Monday night at Cox Pavilion.

Owen, who is filling in for La Rocque as she recovers from her pregnancy, said he was pleased with the poise the Lady Rebels showed in their first regular-season game.

“They’re going to have to be able to stick together,” Owen said. “When someone makes a big shot or they’re making a run, we have to be connected and stay together. I really felt like we did a good job of that.”

Booker and senior guard Justice Ethridge led UNLV with 17 points each. Junior forward Desi-Rae Young finished with 16 points and seven rebounds.

UNLV shot 66.7 percent from the field in the first quarter to take an eight-point lead.

The Lady Rebels pulled away in the second quarter as they went on a 12-0 run to increase their lead to double-digits. They limited Pepperdine to 31.3 percent shooting from the field and went into halftime with a 42-27 advantage.

Owen said an emphasis coming into the game was controlling the offensive boards. Consider that mission accomplished. UNLV limited Pepperdine to nine offensive rebounds after it allowed 22 in its exhibition win last Wednesday.

UNLV held a 38-16 advantage in points in the lane. Owen credited the play of sophomore forward Alyssa Brown off the bench for the advantage UNLV had inside.

In 20 minutes, Brown had nine points and four rebounds. Brown’s teammates felt the impact she made on the floor.

“Alyssa always comes in and gives us a spark and brings the energy,” said Ethridge, who added nine rebounds. “She’s always coming in and getting big rebounds. She’s just a good component to have on our team.”

Owen said the game felt normal to him despite moving one chair over on the bench. Before the game, he said La Rocque gave him some advice, reminding him to be himself.

While there is no timetable for La Rocque’s return, Owen said his focus is on maintaining the program’s standards while La Rocque is gone.

“I want to protect it,” Owen said. “Protect what Lindy has already built here, what our staff has built, what our team has built, and just continue to try to do the very best we can day by day.”

Both Booker and Ethridge said that while it’s not La Rocque’s voice they’re hearing on the sidelines, nothing has changed.

“We handled business,” Ethridge said. “With Lindy being gone and coach Owen stepping up and filling that void, I feel like we brought a lot of energy and that motivated us.”

UNLV’s next game is at 5:30 p.m. Friday against Oral Roberts at Cox Pavilion.

Contact Alex Wright at [email protected]. Follow @AlexWright1028 on Twitter.

G League Ignite loses season opener amid flurry of fouls

Joe Tinnel is originally from northern Ohio. He came to Las Vegas at age 12. He’s 46 now.

He attended the season opener for the G League Ignite on Friday night at The Dollar Loan Center in Henderson. Came to see even more growth in relation to Southern Nevada and its sports scene.

“To way back in the day with just Triple-A baseball here and what we have now is incredible,” Tinnel said. “There are even talks of the NBA coming, so what better way to be part of that than see it in its infancy here with the (G League)?

“We keep evolving as a valley. Now, my son is 11 and can experience all of this. That’s amazing.”

Tinnel is exactly the type of fan Ignite coach Jason Hart hopes to draw more and more of.

Just with a different ending.

It has begun, this 50-game schedule for the Ignite, the opener culminating in a 134-125 loss against the Oklahoma City Blue.

It sure was like the NBA in one way. All sorts of scoring runs.

Prime example: The Ignite blew all of a 28-point lead.

Lots of whistles

“We fouled too much,” said Hart, whose team was called for 35 fouls and allowed 80 second-half points. “An NBA game is long. It’s 48 minutes. Our defense was poor in the second half. We’re a young team. We have to grow to learn. We’ll get better from this.”

An announced gathering of 4,004 came to watch Hart’s side begin its journey here.

The atmosphere had, as you would expect, a Golden/Silver Knights feel to it. There was in-house music blaring and in-game promotions and even a marching drum band. There was a high-flying dunk contest off trampolines at halftime.

Folks even booed block-charge calls, so it was a more-than-standard gathering.

There were almost as many whistles as baskets — 63 fouls were assessed — which made you wonder how Mountain West officials secured jobs calling G League games.

The Ignite couldn’t have asked for a better start, running to a 46-22 lead after one quarter. Efe Abogidi had 17 points over the opening 12 minutes for the hosts.

The former Washington State player — who finished with 23 points — scored on hooks and put-backs, on postups and turnarounds. He set the tone early.

All the way back

But the Blue cut into the margin and climbed within 15 early in the third quarter.

That’s when Scoot Henderson scored four straight. Henderson, the No. 2 prospect for the 2023 draft, had a somewhat quiet beginning but heated up after early foul trouble. He scored a team-best 25.

Oklahoma City didn’t go away. It was a nine-point game after three quarters, and the Blue grabbed their first lead since 2-0 at 117-116 with 5:57 remaining.

They didn’t trail again.

“It wasn’t frustrating,” Henderson said. “That’s how basketball is sometimes — the refs like to slow the pace of the game. But that’s on us for fouling. We have to cut down on our mistakes. We have to come out in the third quarter with the same energy as we had in the first.”

And play much better with a lead.

Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @edgraney on Twitter