Lindy La Rocque establishes a winning culture at UNLV | Seattle Times

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Lindy La Rocque knows all about championship culture from her days as a player for Stanford, then again later as an assistant coach with the program under the Temple coach of fame Tara VanDerveer.

La Rocque brought that mentality to UNLV, where she is completing her second season as head coach guiding her team to marked progress. The Lady Rebels captured a share of the regular-season title from Mountain West, received votes in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, and can win the conference with a victory Saturday at Colorado State or a loss at New Mexico vs. San Jose State on Friday.

VanDerveer, who coached La Rocque at Stanford and then hired her as an assistant from 2017-2020, isn’t surprised by what her protege has achieved – another person who has managed to learn from the most successful women’s coach. all time winner.

“But I’m impressed,” VanDerveer said. “Any time you take on a new job, take on a new program, there’s going to be a challenge. Flipping it around is really amazing.”

What La Rocque has done since taking over the team from her hometown is restore a winning vibe by establishing an identity of confidence and positivity in the first year and then strengthening the bond between her young team with an infusion of transfers. That includes Las Vegas native Essence Booker, the team’s leading scorer with an average of 15.5 points per game.

“She really cares about her players,” said Booker, who started her college career in Nevada then transferred to Ball State before returning home to join UNLV. “And I’m not saying that on a basketball level she cares about us as people. So by doing that and applying that to the coaching staff, it makes us trust her and she makes us trust.

The Lady Rebels were chosen to finish ninth to Mountain West in La Rocque’s first season, but they finished second in the conference and she was named Mountain West Coach of the Year. Chosen for third place this season, they sit in first place with a 14-2 record, 22-5 overall and a 12-game winning streak that ended Thursday with a loss to Wyoming.

The La Rocque women argued for an overall NCAA Tournament bid, though the 77-73 loss to Wyoming probably didn’t help. They can also win the automatic conference bid by winning the MWC tournament in Las Vegas next month.

“We’ve got talent and skill and great players, but I think maybe what’s really our driving force right now is just our chemistry and our love for each other and just wanting to keep going. play,” La Rocque said. “We know our toughest games and toughest challenges are still ahead of us, but we believe in each other that we can really do something special and compete at a high level, like the NCAA Tournament.”

In addition to Booker, La Rocque added transfers Khayla Rooks from Washington and Nneka Obiazor from Youngstown State to blend in with Desi-Rae Young, Alyssa Durazo-Frescas and Justice Ethridge and round out UNLV’s top six scorers.

“I think I sometimes get all the credit for the work our staff do, day in and day out, to keep our team mentally, physically, emotionally stable and prepared for daily training,” La Rocque said. “Obviously there has to be a great membership, culture and player involvement as a unit. We were very diligent in recruiting freshmen last year and then very diligent in recruiting on the transfer portal to identify not only the right players, but also the right people.

“That’s how we want to establish our culture. And I think that’s what really made this year so successful.

Until there.

The Lady Rebels haven’t competed in the NCAA Tournament since 2002, and the program hasn’t always been nationally relevant since the mid-1980s and mid-1990s.

Given the plan laid out for La Rocque during his previous stop, UNLV’s return to March Madness seems imminent.

“And I believe she will do it the right way,” VanDerveer said. “She has a lot of integrity, she’s very smart. It’s really exciting that she’s doing so well and I’m really proud of her.

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More 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

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