Although the deficit finished at 14, the game was never really that close, as the UNLV Rebels used a monstrous first half to hand the BYU Cougars their worst loss of the year, 88-74. UNLV jumped out to an early 15-2 lead and never looked back as they seemed unable to miss anything in the first half, jumping out to as much as a 29 point lead. BYU cut the lead to as low as 13 in the second half, but never really seemed in it. Both teams will likely end up in the NCAA tournament, but UNLV gave their resume a big boost with this romp.
BYU star guard Jimmer Fredette scored 21 points, just below his 21.5 season average, as well as 7 rebounds and 6 assists, but it was not enough for BYU. In a repeat of the first game, Jonathan Tavernari was the biggest spark for the Cougars, but UNLV was able to counter that this game with hot shooting of their own. The key to the game for UNLV was a white-hot first half in which they shot 60% from the floor and 69% from behind the three-point line.
UNLV used a feisty defense, which kept the Cougars out of sync for most of the game. In the first half the Cougars were 5 of 17 in trailing 56-34. In the second half, the Cougars seemed to be getting it together as they cut the lead to 13. However, 5 quick points from Kendall Wallace, followed by 2 from Tre'Von Willis extended the lead back out to 20, and that was the story of the second half. BYU would mount a 5 or 7 point run, and then UNLV would answer with 5 or 7 of their own. If BYU could have gotten the lead under 10 they might have had a chance, but they just couldn't do it. If I were to compare this to a boxing match, UNLV managed about 4 or 5 knockdowns in the first half, and then just used their jab to keep BYU out of reach the rest of the way. While the Cougars can put up points in a hurry, they were clearly shell-shocked after the first half.
The Rebels got big points across the board, but this game belonged to Tre'Von Willis. Jimmer Fredette has been getting a lot of love up to this point, with one coach going so far as to say he's one of the best players the MWC has seen in a long time. Willis doesn't quite have Fredette's numbers, but he's carried the Rebels for much of conference play. He's received a lot of help from Chace Stanback, but Willis is the best player on this Rebels team. Two weeks ago he scored a career-high 30 at TCU, and he surpassed that today with 33. Both are impressive numbers, but to put up 33 against a nationally ranked BYU squad, in a game that meant so much to the Rebels, shows a lot about Willis.
UNLV: The Rebels secured their biggest win of the year, but the road does not get easier anytime soon. UNLV hosts New Mexico this Wednesday, with the Lobos looking for revenge after losing to the Rebels at the Pit last month. After that UNLV travels to San Diego State, to face an SDSU team that often gives them trouble. UNLV's NCAA chances certainly improved today, but they still need to win some more games the rest of the way. It'd be great to sweep these next two games, but even a split would be huge for them.
BYU: The Cougars get a week off to lick their wounds and prepare for the remainder of their conference season. They host conference doormat Air Force in a game that should help them re-establish their confidence. BYU will have to come back to Las Vegas for the conference tournament, which will play a big role in their eventual NCAA seeding. Given how well UNLV shot the ball, the Cougars should be able to recognize there really wasn't much they were going to be able to do today.