LAS VEGAS – Somehow, No. 1 UNLV keeps finding barriers to break through. One historic season after another, capped by a third straight Mountain West Women’s Basketball Championship title with a 66-49 win over No. 7 San Diego State.

“My freshman year, we lost the first game and then it was uphill from there,” senior center Desi-Rae Young said. I’m just extremely proud of where I’ve come, where this team has come. Lindy (La Rocque) has done a great job of just telling us to trust her and telling us to trust the staff. I mean, we all bought in at the end of the day.”

In an absolute dogfight during the first half, the Lady Rebels needed to find a way to get the offense going. It helped a bit that San Diego State went through struggles of its own during the frame, as the teams combined for 19-for-58 shooting, going 0-for-10 from 3.

While the Aztecs would have liked to take advantage of the great defense they played, there were few complaints at a score notched even at 20 at the break.

But a 12-0 run midway through the second quarter was just what was needed to blow the game open.

“I just think we had confidence in each other and the coaches had confidence in us,” Lady Rebels guard Kiara Jackson said. “They told us to keep shooting, keep being aggressive, they’re going to fall. We just kept that attack mindset.”

As is true for a lot of teams and a lot of games, it all starts with the defense.

Much of which came from Young, who finished with a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. She also came up with six steals, a Mountain West championship-game record.

That’s not to say San Diego State struggled taking care of the ball. In fact, the Aztecs turned the ball over 16 times, just three more than UNLV gave up.

“Defense is where it’s at. Defense wins games,” Young said. “We know we’re an offensive team, and we’re a first-half team, second-half team, but we knew the defensive end was exactly where we had to be, play the hardest at and be the smartest at.”

But when it mattered, UNLV was clearly the better, more well-rested and more prepared team.

While the Aztecs did very well to keep the score even at 20 at halftime, coach Stacie Terry-Hutson acknowledged the fact her team was simply too tired to stay in it. Shots which would usually find the bottom of the net rimmed out. Fatigued legs were unfit to keep up on defense with UNLV’s pace of play.

The title lifted and the peak conquered, the Lady Rebels became the third Mountain West team to three-peat as tournament champions, joining New Mexico from 2003-05 and Boise State from 2017-20.

A feat which feels equally as satisfying as the grind toward it felt just like that – a grind.

“I think the biggest thing is every year is a different journey,” UNLV coach La Rocque said. “The last two years were great, but this year was totally different. It’s a new team, you have to find your own path and you have to make different sacrifices.

“Whatever it takes to get here, you have to have people who are willing to do it. We do. It doesn’t always feel good. More often than not, it actually doesn’t feel good. You have to kind of sacrifice that to have the greater good of lifting the trophy. It’s extremely just elated to even be in this position.”

But Young is more than ready, even after just hoisting the trophy, for the new challenge ahead: finally win a game in the NCAA tournament and see what happens from there. Out of the previous two go-rounds, the Lady Rebels have yet to accomplish that.

“We expect to win games (in the NCAA tournament). That’s what we want to do. This is our third time here, and we expected to be here for a third time, so winning games is our highest expectation.”