Courtesy of Braidon Nourse

LAS VEGAS – A grind, through and through, for both teams. But only one can ever come out on top.

In the first Mountain West Women’s Basketball Championship semifinal Tuesday, it was No. 1 UNLV, thanks to some key runs that set the tone early in each half, then a 17-4 run in the final 3:25 to secure a 62-52 victory over No. 5 seed Colorado State.

As a reward, the Lady Rebels will compete for their third straight Mountain West tournament title. Only two other programs (Boise State from 2017-20 and New Mexico from 2003-05) have accomplished that feat.

“Obviously really proud of our team for getting the win. Our goal is to get to championship Wednesday, and we’re playing in the game,” UNLV coach Lindy La Rocque said. “Just a great women’s basketball game. I think every time we play Colorado State, that’s what we get. They’re such great competitors, we have great competitors, they’re very well-coached and McKenna Hofschild is one of the best players in the country.”

Colorado State gave itself a chance, particularly down the stretch, when it cut a 14-point deficit at one point in the third quarter to just three points with 3:48 to go in the game.

Then it was the Amarachi Kimpson show. During the run toward the end, the UNLV freshman scored a layup and a jumper on two iso possessions, the latter coming with a foul, on which she added the free throw. She got two more free throws to push her contribution to the late run to seven.

On a night where Lady Rebels superstar Desi-Rae Young was held to just six points on 3-of-12 shooting, somebody had to step up. Kimpson took the challenge and ran with it, leading all scorers with 18 points to go with a pair of rebounds and assists.

“It means a lot to me,” Kimpson said of her ability to lead her team to a third straight title game. “It’s my first go-around with these girls, so I want to get to the championship win and realize what it takes to get there.”

Like both of the regular-season matchups between the Rams and Lady Rebels, the semifinal could most accurately be described as a grind. The Rebels made numerous runs — the biggest of which were a pair of 8-0 runs to begin each half — but most every time, CSU had an answer.

Unfortunately for the Rams, they’d run out of time to claw back from UNLV’s final run.

The Rams did well to limit Young mostly by making her uncomfortable with consistent double teams, which La Rocque said knocked Young off her spots.

Conversely, the Lady Rebels’ guard tandem of Kimpson and Kiara Jackson, who tallied 12 points and five assists of her own, made life tough for Rams guard Hofschild. After averaging 23.5 points in the two regular-season matchups, she was held to just nine to go with eight assists.

“McKenna is going to have the ball in her hands a ton, and she’s going to wear you down,” La Rocque said. “The fact we’ve got two great defenders who can kind of take turns – and there’s only one of her – I think that obviously helps us. And they’re a little bit different; Kiara is a little bit longer, Amarachi is a little stronger. It might feel different to (Hofschild) too. We liked switching back and forth a little bit.”

The Lady Rebels will play against the winner of No. 6 Boise State and No. 7 San Diego State on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. PT.