Alyssa Brown’s homecoming with UNLV playing Arizona at McKale Center on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA tournament includes some time spent with her family, including her dog Sosa.
Teammate Jade Thomas, Sam’s younger sister, and assistant coach Karlie Burris, a Salpointe standout from 2001-05, had the opportunity to meet Sosa on Friday before the Lady Rebels headed to McKale Center for a press conference and practice.
Brown was a four-year starter for coach Steve Botkin at Sahuaro, where she tallied 2,680 career points from 2017-21. That is second in the state’s history behind 2,913 scored by Julie Brase (Lute Olson’s granddaughter) at Catalina Foothills from 1994-98.
What makes that more interesting is UNLV coach Lindy La Rocque, responsible for recruiting Brown to the Lady Rebels program, is close to the Brase family because her dad Al played for Olson at Long Beach City College.
La Rocque had words of high praise for Brown, a 6-foot-1 freshman forward, during Friday’s press conference at McKale Center, where the 13th-seeded Lady Rebels (26-6) will play No. 4 Arizona (20-7) on Saturday.
“What an awesome young person,” La Rocque said of Brown. “Obviously recruiting her from Tucson, she nearly broke the record book, right? Just a prolific scorer and rebounder and did everything. For our team right now she’s playing behind the Sixth Woman of the Year (in the Mountain West) — Khayla Rooks.
“The best thing about AB (what UNLV calls her) is she is soaking up every minute, trying to learn and get better, because she’s going to be one hell of a player for us. She’s played spot minutes this year, but for the future of Lady Rebel basketball, Alyssa Brown’s going to be a huge part of it and I’m really, really excited.”
KHAYLA ROOKS RETURNS TO HER FATHER’S “COURT”
Khayla Rooks is making her third appearance at McKale Center in as many years, the first with UNLV.
She has came to Tucson the previous two seasons with Washington, ironically with both games on Valentine’s Day, a day Khayla has said was special to her late dad Sean Rooks, an Arizona legend.
In her previous two trips, Khayla has left balloons and roses on her dad’s poster in the hallway at McKale Center that honors Arizona’s greats.
As if by fate, she is able to return as a graduate transfer at UNLV to play one last time at McKale.
“It’s honestly a blessing,” said Khayla, who is averaging 6.4 points and 5.4 rebounds. “Just the fact that we are here is a blessing. But to be able to come and play an NCAA March Madness game on his court is truly an honor and I’m super excited to be here.”
Khayla’s mother Susie, an Arizona graduate who met Sean while they both went to school here, is making the trip.
“My mom is super excited,” Khayla said. “Every time we come out here she tells me all about her college experience with my dad and stuff like that. My grandma’s excited that I’ll be able to play in my dad’s gym. I think overall they’re super excited and super happy for me that I get this opportunity.”
NORTH CAROLINA GUARD’S FATHER GRADUATED FROM ARIZONA
North Carolina guard Carlie Littlefield has an Arizona past with her father Chris a graduate of the university. She was born in Scottsdale and the family lived there before they moved to Iowa.
“As a kid I went to a lot of Arizona football games,” said Carlie, a graduate transfer from Princeton who is averaging 8.7 points a game. “I was born in Arizona. I think I know where his loyalty lies for this weekend. He’s been a Wildcat fan but not this weekend.
“My family is in Iowa still but I have a bunch of relatives who live in Arizona who will be able to make the game.”
Chris Littlefield earned his B.S. in Business Administration from the Arizona and his law degree from Iowa in Iowa City. The family resides in Des Moines.
North Carolina has another Arizona tie with sophomore forward Alexandra Zelaya from Goodyear Millennium High School. She expects 30-40 friends and family members to attend the Tar Heels’ NCAA tournament first-round game with Stephen F. Austin on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at McKale Center.
Arizona plays UNLV afterward at 7 p.m.
North Carolina starting practice ahead of tomorrow’s first round game with Stephen F. Austin at McKale Center. pic.twitter.com/Jkxeq5nhjg
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) March 18, 2022
NORTH CAROLINA’S BANGHART RESPECTFUL OF BARNES AS WORKING MOM
North Carolina coach Courtney Banghart does not have much of a history coaching games west of the Mississippi besides coaching in holiday tournaments with Princeton and now the Tar Heels (she is in her third season at North Carolina after 12 seasons with Princeton).
But from afar she has grown to respect Arizona coach Adia Barnes with both of them working moms.
“In my 12 years at Princeton we did a lot in the L.A. area, basically L.A., Chicago, Atlanta, some of the major cities. So I’ve got a lot of familiarity coming out here,” Banghart said. “We played in Cancun this last season, or two seasons ago, whatever — they all come together; that’s how old I’m getting. But I think the time zone change and all that, the travel that we had, these kids are young. It’s really us that get tired, right?
“Adia, we’re both working moms, part of that Moms in Coaching deal. I have great respect for the journey. We both want to be great at both. That takes a village. It takes a village of women that are in it, and it takes a village outside of the lines as well. But that’s kind of where our connection started, just knowing that that’s who we are and we’re proud to do it. And there’s an added level of respect given how we’re doing it.”
North Carolina coach Courtney Banghart talks about the respect she has for Adia Barnes with both being coaches who are moms. pic.twitter.com/NCzBuZDZXk
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) March 18, 2022
NORTH CAROLINA ENCOUNTERS TRAVEL PROBLEMS TO TUCSON
North Carolina showed up at the airport at Chapel Hill at 4:30 p.m. (1:30 Tucson time) on Wednesday for a 5:30 flight to Tucson, but a series of delays made them leave more than three hours late and not arrive until 1 a.m. Tucson time (4 a.m. at Chapel Hill).
“There was a windshield wiper issue, which I was willing to fly without a windshield wiper,” Banghart said. “But apparently it had to do with the motor. Who knows? We went and got them a bite to eat. We got everybody off their feet, out of the bus. And then we came back.
“They sent a different plane, there was an additional delay. So we didn’t get here until probably about 1 a.m. this time which is 4 a.m. our time, that we’re comfortable with. Thank God we were able to leave Wednesday and not Thursday. I’d be highly stressed if that was the case.”
STEPHEN F. AUSTIN MAKES HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL JUMP TO THE WAC
Stephen F. Austin took the WAC by storm in its first year in the conference after being in the Southland Conference.
The Ladyjacks finished 17-1 in the WAC and cruised in their two games at the conference tournament in Las Vegas last week beating Utah Valley 68-42 in the semfinals and Grand Canyon 74-57 in the championship game.
“A little bit more size and maybe a little bit more skill I thought was probably the two biggest differences from just an Xs and Os, night in and night out,” said Stephen F. Austin coach Mark Kellogg, who added that traveling the expansive WAC including trips to Arizona, Utah, Washington and Illinois was also quite different.
“Being geographically somewhat centrally located in the Southland where it was a bus trip, maybe six hours was our furthest trip, for me that was okay — throw your bags on the bottom of a bus and go and get home that night and you’re with your family again.”