UNLV coach Lindy La Rocque said Wednesday that she can foresee perhaps “a couple hundred” fans cheering on the Lady Rebels when they play Arizona on Saturday at McKale Center in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“They have a great crowd; I’m really excited,” La Rocque said of Arizona during a Zoom conference with the media. “I think we’re going to have a really good showing of our own — maybe a couple hundred. But they’re going to have thousands.”
UNLV will have that many fans here largely because of the numerous connections some of the Lady Rebels have in Southern Arizona, chief among them former Sahuaro standout Alyssa Brown returning as a freshman forward with UNLV.
Two other significant ties will draw fans:
— UNLV freshman guard Alyssa Durazo-Frescas has a lot of extended family in Tucson, including great grandmother Bertha “Bodie” Gallego, who played for the Tucson Flirts semipro fastpitch softball team in the 1940s. Alyssa’s mom Monica was born and raised in Tucson. Alyssa’s aunt Norma Gallego played four years for the Arizona softball program in the 1970s.
— UNLV assistant coach Karlie Burris, in her first year with the Lady Rebels, attended Salpointe from 2001-05 and was part of the 2002-03 team that played in the state championship game. That team included Sybil Dosty, who went on to play for Tennessee and Arizona State. Burris’ family, including her parents Tim and Celia, lives in Oro Valley.
Other UNLV connections to Tucson include Jade Thomas being the younger sister of Sam Thomas, Khayla Rooks the daughter of Arizona’s legendary center Sean Rooks and director of basketball operations Amie Callaway‘s father Reggie residing in Marana. Reggie was an all-city running back at Cholla High School as a senior in the 1981 season who walked on at Arizona when Larry Smith coached the Wildcats.
“It doesn’t put any more pressure on the game, but hopefully it gets a couple more people to watch,” La Rocque said of the connections. “Our team will be really motivated regardless because it’s an NCAA tournament, and they’re really excited. But I think some of these different connections, they have a lot of people that they want to play for and make proud.”
La Rocque said she will not keep Brown, Durazo-Frescas and Jade Thomas from visiting their families while in Tucson.
“I told them, ‘Go see your family, like that’s what you need to do,'” La Rocque said. “I think it’s just having our staff have a good balance of doing what we’ve always done while also having the players really enjoying and appreciating the moment, soaking it in and keeping their focus where it needs to be, which I’m not worried about.”
“IT’S NOT A DAVID AND GOLIATH SITUATION”
Arizona is seeded No. 4 and has been ranked all season while UNLV is No. 13 and trying to establish itself under La Rocque, but La Rocque does not view Saturday’s game as a mismatch.
“I think it’s a good matchup for us; I’d probably say that about any opponent, to be honest, but we’re really confident in who we are, and what we do and we’ll make sure to have that happen during a game and have a great game plan,” La Rocque said. “Whoever we’re playing, I think we will still have that same confidence level.
“I think there’s some good matchups there (with Arizona). I mean, I think we are really talented. I think they are very talented too. But it’s not a David and Goliath situation. I just don’t believe that. … If we execute, take care of the ball and rebound, it can be anyone’s game.”
Arizona is No. 19 in the latest NET rankings while UNLV is No. 81. Arizona is 6-4 against teams ranked in the NET Top 50. The Lady Rebels did not play a team in the top 50 this season.
But what really matters is how a team plays a certain day.
TURN UP THE VOLUME
UNLV is preparing this week for the anticipated loud crowd noise at McKale Center similar to what football teams do when they are about to travel to a hostile environment.
“I got the big loud speakers from football that they put on their field, and I brought them in our little gym and blasted their eardrums out,” La Rocque said of her players. “They hated it, but I think it’s gonna work. It is really loud.”
In 13 games on the road this season, mostly in the Mountain West Conference, the Lady Rebels played in front of an average of 1,175 fans. Arizona ranks No. 8 nationally averaging 7,648 in 13 games at McKale Center this season.
VANDERVEER TRUE TO PAC-12
La Rocque, who was recruited by Arizona out of Las Vegas’ Durango High School in 2007-08, attended Stanford with the legendary Tara VanDerveer the deciding draw. La Rocque later coached at Stanford from 2017-20 before her hire at UNLV.
She shares a close relationship VanDerveer with both calling and text messaging the other often.
After it was announced Sunday that UNLV would play at Stanford’s Pac-12 foe Arizona in the first round game, VanDerveer congratulated La Rocque, and the topic turned to a possible scouting report of the Wildcats for La Rocque.
“She was adamant that she wasn’t going to give me the Arizona scout,” La Rocque said with a smile. “I tried to tell her, ‘Blood is thicker than water, Tara, come on.’ I really respect that. She wants the Pac-12 to do well, and she’s known Adia (Barnes) a long time. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting it, so that was fine.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.