If this game was any indication of the conference season that lies ahead for the MWC, fans better buckle up for a wild road. UNLV and BYU have had some entertaining battles over the years, and this one was one more chapter in the rivalry. In a game that saw 15 lead changes, and nobody able to get up to a double digit lead, it came down to the closing moments before the BYU Cougars held on for a 77-73 win. UNLV held the biggest lead of the game early in the second half, but simply couldn't execute late in the game to hold their lead. The Rebels outshot BYU 45% to 36%, but it wasn't enough.
Click after the jump for more details from the game, and a quick look ahead for both teams...
As a UNLV fan I might be quick to point to the free throw disparity (24 BYU attempts versus 12 for UNLV). While BYU did get plenty of calls, UNLV lost this game because they could not execute late in the game, missing big shots and turning the ball over way too much. Maybe you can get away with that at home against some teams, but when you head to a place like the Marriott Center, you best bring your A-game.
BYU has to be pleased with the win, and not just because home conference wins are a must. Their star point guard, Jimmer Fredette, is recovering from strep throat and was held to 7 points on 4-of-10 shooting. In his stead, BYU got huge games from Noah Hartstock (17pts, 6 rebounds) and Las Vegas high schooler Jonathan Tavernari (17 points, 9 rebounds), which has to have them optimistic about their depth heading further into conference play. With New Mexico's recent 2-game stumble, including their loss at SDSU last night, BYU is easily playing the best basketball in the conference.
UNLV on the other hand is now in the midst of a 2-game losing streak and will need to show much better composure in the late stages of games. They did what they needed to early into the second half going up by as many as 8 points. Had the executed late, they probably would have won this game. But woulda/coulda/shoulda doesn't put a notch in the win column. Tre'Von Willis was UNLV's best player on the floor finishing with 24 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Of course, he also finished with 5 turnovers, none of which was as bad as his final one. The Rebels were down 73-71 and Willis had snagged an offensive rebound. After a timeout, Willis turned the ball over on the pass from out-of-bounds. On the ensuing BYU possession, Jackson Emery nailed a jumper as the shot clock was winding down. Add in huge free throw misses by Willis and Kendall Wallace, and that did in the Rebels tonight.
UNLV - The Rebels' schedule does not let up as they will be heading down to the Pit to face the #15 New Mexico Lobos. After a 12-0 start New Mexico has been a bit up and down and will be looking to get back on track. Although it's a tough schedule start for UNLV, they need a win to avoid falling too far out of the regular season conference race.
BYU - The Cougars don't exactly have a walk in the park coming up, but heading to UTEP and Air Force should allow them to get ready for a tough 2-game road stretch at San Diego State and New Mexico in late January. This will allow Jimmer Fredette time to recover from his strep throat and get back into complete game shape.