Updated November 19, 2020 - 4:14 pm
Former Durango High standout Lindy La Rocque’s return to Las Vegas as coach of the UNLV women’s basketball team has been greeted with excitement, but it might take time to rebuild the program.
The Lady Rebels were picked to finish ninth in the Mountain West on Thursday in La Rocque’s first season. The team was tied for fifth with a 9-9 conference record in former coach Kathy Olivier’s last season, but only one starter returns.
The players have had to gel quickly because practices started Oct. 1, and La Rocque acknowledged there’s a significant difference between her style and that of the previous staff. Still, the team is eager to start its season at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center against Northern Arizona. Fans will not be allowed to attend because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re all just grateful that we have a chance to be on the court, to have a chance to practice together and play games in about a week,” sophomore forward Delaynie Byrne said during a virtual media day.
The returning starter is senior guard Bailey Thomas, the 2020 Mountain West defensive player of the year. She focused on expanding her offensive game during the offseason after averaging 4.9 points a game last season. La Rocque has her working on shooting off ball screens to become more of an offensive threat.
The other 10 players have combined for one start at the Division I level. Junior college guard Nia Johnson is the only other upperclassman, so the Lady Rebels will need their younger returnees and three freshmen to make an impact.
Two of the first-year players are from Las Vegas: guard Jade Thomas of Centennial, who is Bailey Thomas’ younger sister, and forward Desi-Rae Young of Desert Oasis.
“Everyone’s been super positive,” Bailey Thomas said. “The team’s been working hard. I’m excited to play with this team. I’m excited to play with my sister. I’m excited to play with the new coach. We’re just making the most of this opportunity.”
Mountain West women’s basketball preseason poll
1. Fresno State (22)
2. San Jose State (2)
3. Boise State (1)
4. San Diego State (1)
6. New Mexico
7. Air Force
8. Colorado State
11. Utah State