Sahuaro alum Alyssa Brown & UNLV gathering steam with March Madness approaching

Sahuaro alum Alyssa Brown was one of the last UNLV players on the court taking pictures and signing autographs for fans after Saturday’s win over San Diego State at the Cox Pavilion (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

LAS VEGAS — A group of UNLV players, including Sahuaro High School legend Alyssa Brown, waited for their coach Lindy La Rocque in what resembles a large freight elevator to take them from court level at the Cox Pavilion below to their locker room on Saturday.

La Rocque, consumed by the heat of the game — won by UNLV 65-59 over Mountain West rival San Diego State — looked at her players and smiled.

“I had to take my (sports) jacket off because you guys made me sweat,” she said, fanning her face with her hand.

La Rocque drew a laugh from her jubilant players, making the comment despite the game ending about 15 minutes previously. She and the Rebels remained on the court to take photos with fans and sign autographs following the last regular-season home game in the packed Cox Pavilion.

La Rocque’s program exudes some heat, ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time in 29 years. UNLV, which is No. 24, is on an 18-game winning streak that has improved its record to 27-2 overall and 17-0 in the Mountain West.

The Rebels are coming off last season’s NCAA tournament appearance at McKale Center (in which it lost to Arizona in the first round) in the program’s first trip to March Madness in 20 years.

“When I took the job (before the 2020-21 season), I had a vision of what this place could be and what it once was,” said La Rocque, a Las Vegas native whose dad Al was a longtime successful high school coach here after playing for Lute Olson at Long Beach City College.

“That’s what I remember and I’m trying to put the pieces together to make that come to fruition. This is one of the small milestones (being ranked for the first time since 1994) that gives you a little bit of joy and you know that you’re doing some things right.”

Brown, one of the most prolific scorers in Arizona high school basketball history, has become one of the Rebels’ hottest players after replacing injured junior forward and reigning Mountain West sixth player of the year Nneka Obiazor in the starting lineup at the turn of the year.

The 6-foot-1 sophomore versatile forward, who can play at all parts of the court offensively and defensively, has started in place of Obiazor (out for the season with a knee injury) in the last 13 games.

Brown is averaging 9.2 points and 7.6 rebounds a game and has produced 18 blocked shots, including five in the win over San Diego State. She recorded her fifth double-double of the season with 14 points and 12 rebounds against the Aztecs.

UNLV, which has clinched its second consecutive regular-season Mountain West title, concludes its regular season Tuesday at rival Nevada.

“This is a really talented group, so just trying to find my role and do whatever they need me to do,” said Brown, second in career scoring among Arizona girls high school players with 2,680 points from 2017-21.

Julie Brase, Olson’s granddaughter, held on to the career scoring mark with 2,913 points at Catalina Foothills from 1994-98 despite Brown making a serious challenge.

Alyssa Brown has 15 starts for UNLV this season after playing minimal minutes off the bench last season as a freshman (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Brown’s senior season in 2020-21 was limited to 19 games because of COVID-19 restrictions. Otherwise, the scoring record could be hers, but never has she brought that up or dwelled on it with the media.

In many ways, Brown takes on the characteristics of her mother Lisa Moore, who prides herself on making sure her daughter is ready for what’s next. She visits Brown often from Tucson and is not only a mom to her daughter but also the Rebels who are Brown’s roommates.

Moore cooks them dinner. She said after Saturday’s game that she had some driving around to do to get things for their apartment.

She calls her daughter, “Princess.”

“I think she’s doing absolutely amazing; I’m so proud of her, but as always, I’m more proud of her off the court,” Moore said.

Moore is a former standout at Tucson High School whose father Gene played basketball at Arizona under Bruce Larson.

Alyssa Brown with her mom Lisa Moore after Saturday’s game between UNLV and San Diego State at the Cox Pavilion (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

“She works really hard on the dedication,” Moore continued about her daughter. “I can’t even describe the extra stuff she does to prepare for school, to be on the court for practice … She gets here two hours before everybody else to get treatment and to get stretched and ready.”

Brown’s sister Olivia Harden was also in attendance Saturday. Another sister, Sydney Harden, has come to Las Vegas as well to watch her play. The Hardens, both former Sahuaro standouts, were on Steve Botkin’s staff in Brown’s senior season with the Cougars.

Botkin drove to Las Vegas after Sahuaro’s season came to an end Tuesday with a playoff loss at Pueblo so he could watch Brown play before the Rebels’ season finishes. He saw Brown have 10 points, nine rebounds and two steals in UNLV’s 86-32 win Thursday over Utah State.

Alyssa Brown with her high school coach Steve Botkin and her college coach Lindy La Rocque (Lisa Moore photo)

It was a surprise visit. When Brown saw her former coach, she was drawn to tears.

“He was such a big part of my high school career and my family, just in general, so it was very emotional to see him make his way up here,” Brown said.

Moore said that when she is not around (which rarely happens), she can count on her daughter receiving guidance from UNLV assistant coach Karlie Burris, a Tucsonan who starred at Salpointe under coach Pete Fajardo from 2001 to 2005.

Among Burris’ Lancer teammates during her time there were Sybil DostyChristina Hurtado and Kellie Olson (another one of Olson’s granddaughters). Salpointe went 113-21 in that span.

During her sophomore and junior years, the Lancers were 61-5 and did not lose to a team from Southern Arizona. Salpointe lost to unbeaten Gilbert Highland in the state championship game in the 2002-03 season.

Burris, the Rebels and the coaches call Brown “AB” after her initials.

Burris and Brown share the natural bond with Tucson as their hometown. UNLV sophomore guard Alyssa Durazo-Frescas, whose mom Monica is from Tucson, also comes to Southern Arizona often to visit family. Durazo-Frescas’ great aunt, Norma Gallego, is one of the original members of the Arizona softball program.

Burris has a background of being Joan Bonvicini’s video coordinator in 2010-11 when Bonvicini coached at Seattle University and she was an assistant to former Arizona standout Sue Darling from 2012-17 when Darling coached at NAU.

“AB’s had to step up” after the injury to Obiazor, Burris noted about Brown. “She’s kind of had injuries herself, but I think we all knew she had the talent. It was just learning our offensive schemes, defensively, and she’s really just blossomed.

“We’ve given her that opportunity and she’s taken full advantage of it. She’s been huge for us.”

Brown went from playing for Botkin, who has more than 600 career wins at Sahuaro, to learning about the college game from one of the sport’s fastest rising coaches in La Rocque, who played at Stanford for Tara VanDerveer from 2008-12 and coached on VanDerveer’s staff there from 2017-20.

La Rocque, only 33, idolized Olson, who was her Godfather.

When La Rocque was hired by UNLV, Olson offered the school a quote about La Rocque, mentioning she was the only girl to ever attend his Elite Basketball Camp and predicted her success.

Arizona assistant coach Jack Murphy, who attended Las Vegas Durango High School, where La Rocque’s father coached, often babysat La Rocque and her sister.

Alyssa Brown signs the back of a youngster’s shirt after UNLV’s win over San Diego State on Saturday at the Cox Pavilion (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

So much symmetry to success at UNLV for Brown.

One more Tucson connection — UNLV’s director of basketball operations Aimee Callaway is the daughter of former Cholla High School football standout Reginald Callaway, who resides in Marana.

Tucson and Las Vegas are more than 400 miles apart but they are inseparable for the former Sahuaro standout.

Brown has warmed up to the program although only less than two years in Las Vegas, and the Rebels are benefitting from her confidence to handle the demands from her coaches.

“Seeing that I’ve done it in high school, playing multiple positions and remembering multiple positions, it is a lot but she (La Rocque) expects me to handle it,” Brown said. “I do feel very young (as a sophomore). I feel the potential in myself. Always trust in yourself.

“I try to lead as much as I can being a returner and that’s just kind of my role.”


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.

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