UNLV and BYU open up conference play in what is turning into a fairly entertaining rivalry. UNLV swept the two-game set last season to take a 16-13 lead in the all-time series. Of course, the history goes even further back given that Mormons initially founded Las Vegas. Although BYU has their holy war with Utah, the BYU-UNLV rivalry brings a fair amount of its own tension. BYU has played extremely well at the Marriott Center and comes into tonight's game as an 8-point favorite. It's interesting, though, to note that UNLV is the only Mountain West team to win up in Provo since 2005.
After an extended break over the holidays, UNLV returns to the court hoping to open conference play with a bang. UNLV gets the unenviable task of opening conference play at the two best teams in the conference (depending on your feelings about the Rebels). UNLV heads to #25/23 BYU and then follows that this weekend with a trip to the Pit to face #15/14 New Mexico (they're only team in the country facing two ranked opponents on the road). Follow that up with a home game against San Diego State (SDSU beat UNLV 3 times last season) and this 3-game stretch could very well make or break UNLV's chances at a regular season conference title.
UNLV's two losses this season have arguably exposed them as a team that can get beat up by a team with size and physicality. Fortunately, this BYU team would appear to be more guard oriented. They have some size, but with over half their points coming from three guards, UNLV might be able to take advantage of it's athleticism. BYU has a couple good sized forwards, so one thing to focus on is how much they've studied the film from UNLV's losses to Kansas State and USC. Both teams basically punched UNLV in the mouth early and used their size to prevent the Rebels from getting into any sort of rhythm.
Speaking of USC, UNLV hasn't played since Christmas Day, meaning they could have a bit of rust coming out of the gate. BYU blew out Arizona on the road on 12/28 and handled their business against Eastern New Mexico on 1/2 so they shouldn't be rusty. BYU will be looking to exact some revenge after last season's sweep, and I'd imagine it will be an especially hostile crowd. The key for a UNLV upset would be to jump out early and silence the crowd. If BYU jumps out early and gets the crowd going, they could put this game away before halftime.
Make sure and check out the SB Nation Preview:
A perfect 8-0 at home this season, the Cougars have actually run off nine consecutive victories since suffering their one and only loss, a 71-61 setback at Utah State in early December. Most recently, BYU was able to pad its stats by crushing Eastern New Mexico with a 95-49 triumph on Saturday. It was the fourth time in the last five games that BYU has tallied at least 91 points, with the other contest showing 88 points in an easy win against Nebraska.
Meanwhile the Rebels, who have won all four of their true road games so far in 2009-10, they've been out of action since their Christmas Day showdown against USC as part of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. The tournament started off well enough with wins over SMU and Hawaii, but the Trojans proved to be too much in a 67-56 decision. The 56 points for the Rebels, whose only other loss was against Kansas State at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas in the second week of December, were the fewest so far this season.
|Team Stat Leaders|
|Michael Loyd, Jr.||15||12.7||1.7||2.9||56.8||0.7||1.4||52.4||0.5||0.9||57.1||0.1||1.0||1.1||1.3||1.2||0.5||0.1||0.5||4.6|
|Lamont Morgan, Jr.||15||10.5||0.7||1.1||64.7||0.3||0.5||71.4||0.2||0.3||75.0||0.2||0.6||0.8||2.0||0.9||0.4||0.0||0.3||2.0|