weather icon Mostly Cloudy

UNLV women’s basketball picked near bottom of Mountain West

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.”

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
UNLV goes for sweep of Utah State

UNLV took a 59-56 win over Utah State on Monday and will go for a sweep of their two-game series at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Former UNLV coach buys $3M home in Southern Highlands

Former UNLV and current Oklahoma basketball coach Lon Kruger is returning to Southern Highlands in a $2.9 million purchase that will serve as a part-time summer residence.

Eliminating Hey Reb! skirts the real issue

It’s much easier — not to mention cheaper — for UNLV to ditch a mascot than the nickname the university has been known by since the mid-1950s.