By MARK ANDERSON
AP Sports Writer
LAS VEGAS (AP) — UNLV women’s basketball coach Lindy La Rocque might be the exception as the coach who stays and tries to build a program at a mid-major even if Power Five athletic directors try to lure her away with offers of more money and greater access to the NCAA tournament.
Las Vegas is La Rocque’s hometown, and three of her starters — and two leading scorers — are from the valley. Even more importantly, her family is nearby and helps watch her 3-month-old daughter while she coaches the Lady Rebels.
“I think if anything it’s shown me that I need to be here in Las Vegas,” La Rocque said. “… if I didn’t have (her parents), raising my child during the season would be really difficult. Not just my parents, I’ve got family and friends that helped raise me when I was a kid. I’ve always had that vision (of) raising my family around family, and obviously this job gives me the luxury of doing both.”
La Rocque is in her third season at UNLV and keeps taking the program up a step each year. The Lady Rebels went 15-9 in her first season, turning around a team that was 13-17 the previous year. Last season, La Rocque guided the Lady Rebels to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 20 years.
This season? They are repeat Mountain West champions, 25-2 and ranked, at No. 24, in the AP poll for the first time in 29 years.
As well as UNLV has played, however, there is no guarantee the Lady Rebels will make the NCAA tournament should they stumble in next month’s Mountain West tournament. UNLV is 53nd in the NET rankings, a factor the tournament committee uses when considering at-large teams.
For La Rocque, improving the team’s resume in future seasons is her next priority once this one ends. That is evident with next season’s nonconference schedule, which includes Arizona at home and Oklahoma on the road. Oklahoma is ranked 13th and Arizona 14th.
That is down the road, and for now La Rocque is using a roster that is largely home grown. Three of the team’s top five scorers are from Las Vegas. Their success has help shine a light on the quality of girls high school basketball in the Las Vegas Valley.
“There’s local talent here in Las Vegas, and I feel like it’s slept on,” said senior guard Essence Booker, who previously played at Nevada and Ball State. “I originally didn’t get recruited from UNLV, so being able to play for Lindy La Rocque and this group and with Justice (Ethridge) and Desi(-Rae Young) all being from Vegas, it’s the best of both worlds.”
Young, a 6-foot-1 junior center, leads UNLV with 18.1 points and 10.3 rebounds a game.
“I think a lot of women here in Las Vegas don’t get seen as much as people on the East Coast,” Young said. “So I think now we’ve made it known that we actually have great talent here.”
La Rocque herself played high school basketball in Las Vegas and as a freshman at Durango she also competed on a boys AAU team because there wasn’t one for girls. She even started at guard over Pierre Jackson, who had an eight-game stint for the Dallas Mavericks in the 2016-17 NBA season.
Her dad, Al, was a longtime, successful high school coach, including at Durango from 1993-2007. The coach’s daughter would play herself into a scholarship offer from traditional power Stanford, which appeared in the Final Four each season she was there.
Now she’s home and building a winner with every intent to see the job through as well as be a wife and mother. La Rocque was coaching UNLV in an exhibition Nov. 2 when her water broke in the third quarter.
It was quite stressful at the time, but she got a baby girl and a great story to tell.
“They tell you you get this weird mother intuition,” La Rocque said. “I didn’t think she would come that early, but I just had a feeling that it was going to happen early. It was going to be something in the gym.”
Las Vegas is La Rocque’s home, and maybe she will build UNLV into a national power. No doubt there will be suitors, though, and Al La Rocque knows his daughter might have some choices to make at some point.
“But I also know her family is the most important thing to her,” Al La Rocque said. “Mom and I are certainly enjoying (being grandparents), but we also want her to have the best career that she can as well.”
AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25