Sahuaro standout Alyssa Brown and Alyssa Durazo-Frescas, a player with extensive Tucson roots, were not part of the home team at McKale Center on Saturday night, but they felt right at home with large gatherings of their families in the crowd.
About 10 members of Brown’s family and her coach at Sahuaro, Steve Botkin, were in the stands as were Durazo-Fresca’s mom Monica, grandmother Patty and grand aunt Norma Gallego (a former Arizona softball player who was one of the first female athletes to be awarded a scholarship after Title IX was instituted in 1972) .
The 72-67 loss to Arizona in the first round of the NCAA tournament drew some tears of sadness, but the emotions soon turned to proud thoughts of what was accomplished for the Lady Rebels to be in March Madness.
“We had hopes of winning but all is good because they got to see her play in front of family,” said Durazo-Fresca’s mom, who was raised in Tucson, said of her mom and aunt.
Brown became emotional when she saw her family and her grandmother Rita Sartin at the team hotel when they departed to McKale Center. Brown saw her grandmother all the time when she played at Sahuaro. This was Sartin’s first chance to watch her granddaughter with UNLV all season.
Brown, whose late grandfather Gene Moore played at Arizona for Bruce Larson and Fred Snowden, converted a 3-point play when she was inserted late in the game.
“She broke down crying and it was just the sweetest thing ever,” Alyssa’s mom Lisa Moore said about the meeting with her grandmother before the game. “I had told my son and my mom before the the pep rally that Alyssa was going to be emotional because I know her. After she cried, I cried and my mom cried, her brother-in-law cried and her nephew cried. Yeah, it was really nice.”
Pima assistant coach Pete Fajardo sat near Botkin in the stands. One of Fajardo’s former players when he coached at Salpointe, Karlie Burris, is a UNLV assistant. Burris was a four-year starter with the Lancers from 2001-05.
Burris’ family, which lives in Oro Valley, was in attendance. That included her father Tim, mother Celia and sister Brittany (who had her six children there).
KHAYLA ROOKS ENDS CAREER AT WHERE HER DAD SEAN STARRED
UNLV graduate transfer Khayla Rooks, who played the first four years of her career at Washington, was able to return to McKale Center one last time when the Lady Rebels were sent here for the first-round matchup with Arizona.
Khayla finished with five points and seven rebounds, contributing to the Lady Rebels’ 36-22 rebounding edge.
“My mom made it and my dad’s sister, my aunt, made it,” Khayla said. “It was definitely a really special game, very high emotions for me just being here and playing in my dad’s house. Yeah, I would say it was definitely a special game most definitely. If I had to end my career anywhere, it’s a special place to end it, for sure.”
THOMAS SISTERS PLAYING EACH OTHER DIDN’T MATERIALIZE
It was anticipated that Sam Thomas might play against her sister Jade, a reserve forward in her second year with the Lady Rebels.
Jade did not enter the game until the final seconds because Arizona’s lead was 72-63 with 49 seconds remaining.
“I was relieved that the lead was up like that,” Sam said. “I know her minutes are a little bit limited, so to know that she was going in when we had a pretty decent lead, it was nice to see her touch the ball a little bit. My family was obviously happy and then she was guarding Madi (Conner) … she’s known Madi for a while, so they were probably over there joking.
“But it was good to see her get on the court for the first time in an NCAA Tournament, so really happy for her and then happy for us to move on to the next round.”
TRINITY BAPTISTE FINALLY EXPERIENCES McKALE CROWD
Arizona’s post player from its team that made the NCAA championship game last season — Trinity Baptiste — did not experience a McKale Center crowd because of the season-long schedule of games without fans because of COVID-19 protocol.
Baptiste, who recently departed from a Russian pro league because of the conflict in Ukraine, got back in Tucson just in time to watch Arizona host UNLV in front of a crowd of 9,573 at McKale.
She spoke to Barnes about finally getting the experience of the fans at McKale. She was one of them.
“Trinity Baptiste, she came back and she said, ‘Coach, I never got to see what an Arizona crowd was like,’ and that didn’t dawn on me until she said it,” Barnes said. “I’m like, oh, yeah, because she played here (last year). We talked about that. That was one of the things — I recruited her and I said you’re going to play in front of 10,000 to 15,000 people.
“I didn’t think COVID would last that long, so she didn’t get to experience that until today as a fan.”
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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.