Las Vegas Sun

April 15, 2024

UNLV women leaning on frontcourt duo to produce in NCAA Tournament

Lady Rebels Win MW Championship

Steve Marcus

UNLV Lady Rebels forward Alyssa Brown, the game MVP, helps cut down the net after the Lady Rebels defeated the San Diego State Aztecs, 66-49, to win the Mountain West Conference championship game at the Thomas & Mack Center Wednesday, March 13, 2024.

With eight minutes left in the Mountain West championship game, UNLV had a 45-37 lead over San Diego State and was looking to bury the dagger.

Working from the elbow extended, junior forward Alyssa Brown made a nice feed inside to Desi-Rae Young, and the senior laid it in to push UNLV’s advantage to double digits. Four minutes later, Brown and Young connected again, with Young converting another layup to make it 62-45.

The confetti dropped shortly thereafter.

Young’s role in delivering a third straight conference championship was not a surprise, not after she earned her second Mountain West Player of the Year award in 2023-24 by posting 17.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. But Brown’s active participation is a new wrinkle, and one that makes the No. 20 Scarlet and Gray especially scary as they head into Saturday’s NCAA Tournament matchup with Creighton.

Brown summed up her on-court chemistry with Young after they combined for 29 points, 19 rebounds and two blocks in the MWC title game.

“We feed off each other,” Brown said.

In her second year as a starter, Brown’s scoring output actually dimmed during the regular season, from 9.1 points per game as a sophomore to 6.3 this season. But her fit alongside Young has maximized her value to UNLV — particularly during the Mountain West tournament, when Brown exploded for 11.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks over three games to earn MVP honors.

No one was more excited than Young to see Brown receive her MVP trophy, and she credited her frontcourt partner for adapting her game to become more effective.

“She’s grown so much,” Young said. “I remember when A.B. used to just run people over, but now she understands how to use her body and she understands how to rebound and how to control herself and control her emotions and things like that. She’s been a great shooter from outside the arc. She shot great in the championship game and the whole tournament. I was really happy for her.”

That shooting touch has been a key to unlocking the Young-Brown duo. Young does the vast majority of her work on the interior — 389 of her 423 shot attempts this year have come inside the arc — so pairing her with another bruising post player would only create congestion in the lane.

Brown has adapted by developing her 3-point shot, allowing her and Young to play together with an inside-out dynamic. At 6-foot-1, she has become a threat from long distance, forcing opposing defenses to respect her by hitting 22-of-68 from deep (32.4%).

In the Mountain West tournament, Brown tortured defenses that chose to crowd Young under the basket by stepping out and connecting on 7-of-11 from 3-point range (63.6%).

Young is dominant on her own, and Brown is a talented player in her own right. But head coach Lindy La Rocque believes their complementary skill sets work to make each other better.

“The way they push and challenge each other in practice is phenomenal,” La Rocque said. “It’s really special. They play so well together. Those are players that have played three years together and you can see that connection in how they share the ball and the passing. It really helps our pace of play and us to be able to get out and score a lot of points.”

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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