Friday, Feb. 4, 2011 | 6 p.m.
UNLV vs. BYU
UNLV Rebels (17-5, 4-3) vs. BYU Cougars (21-2, 7-1)
Where: Marriott Center
When: 1 p.m.
Coaches: Lon Kruger is 154-67 in his seven seasons at UNLV and 472-300 in 25 overall seasons; Dave Rose is 148-42 in his six seasons at BYU, which is his first head coaching job.
Series: UNLV leads, 18-15.
Last time: BYU won, 89-77, on Jan. 5 in Las Vegas.
Line: BYU by 8.5.
TV/Radio:Versus/ESPN Radio 1100 AM/98.9 FM
G Oscar Bellfield (6-2, 185, Jr.) 10.9 ppg, 3.8 apg, 2.3 rpg.
G Anthony Marshall (6-3, 200, So.) 10.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.8 apg.
G Tre'Von Willis (6-4, 195, Sr.) 11.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.2 apg.
F Chace Stanback (6-8, 210, Jr.) 13.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg.
F Quintrell Thomas (6-8, 245, So.) 5.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg.
Bench:G Derrick Jasper (6-6, 215, Sr.) 6.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.2 apg; F Brice Massamba (6-10, 240, Jr.) 4.1 ppg, 2.0 rpg; G Justin Hawkins (6-3, 190, So.) 5.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.2 apg; F Carlos Lopez (6-11, 215, Fr.) 5.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg; G-F Karam Mashour (6-6, 200, Fr.) 2.4 ppg.
What to watch: UNLV will still make it a priority to work its offense from the inside out. Will that mean big games again for Quintrell Thomas and Carlos Lopez? Brice Massamba appears to be over his flu bug, but Thomas and Lopez have earned the bigger minutes in the rotation at center, combining for 29 points and 25 rebounds on Wednesday in the victory over Utah. The rebounding will be the key, as BYU's Brandon Davies is playing strong in the paint in league play.
G Jimmer Fredette (6-2, 195, Sr.) 27.6 ppg, 4.2 apg, 3.5 rpg.
G Jackson Emery (6-3, 190, Sr.) 12.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.5 apg.
G Kyle Collinsworth (6-6, 210, Fr.) 6.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.3 apg.
F Noah Hartsock (6-8, 230, Jr.) 9.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg.
F Brandon Davies (6-9, 235, So.) 12.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg.
Bench: G-F Charles Abouo (6-5, 215, Jr.) 5.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg; F Logan Magnusson (6-6, 210, Sr.) 1.9 ppg, 2.1 rpg; G-F Brock Zylstra (6-6, 210, So.) 1.4 ppg; F-C James Anderson (6-10, 240, Jr.) 1.3 ppg, 1.7 rpg; F Stephen Rogers (6-8, 195, So.) 3.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg.
What to watch: Which Jackson Emery will show up: The guy who scored 22 points on 6-of-9 3-point shooting against UNLV in the first meeting, or the one whose lack of scoring support for Jimmer Fredette was an achilles heel for the Cougars in last Saturday's loss at New Mexico? This game could hinge on what kind of a wingman Emery is to the MWC's top player.
PROVO, Utah — This time around, there's no "supposedly" about it.
BYU's Jimmer Fredette is the best player in the Mountain West Conference, and his play over the month that has passed between his first meeting of the season with UNLV and Saturday's second proves it.
The Rebels (17-5 overall, 5-3 Mountain West) are out to not only avenge an 89-77 blowout from early January on their home floor but also want to pull closer to the Cougars (21-2, 7-1) in the race for the league's regular season title.
Getting that win starts with taking care of Fredette, who is averaging a whopping 34.4 points per game in eight MWC contests and has turned himself into a legitimate National Player of the Year candidate.
UNLV senior guard Tre'Von Willis talked a big game heading into the first encounter, and Fredette used it as fuel en route to a 39-point explosion. Willis, whose problematic right knee is much healthier this time around, knows what the mindset needs to be for the group of Rebels defenders who will see time on him at 1 p.m. Saturday.
"People don't realize that he doesn't want to pass the ball. He doesn't want to get assists. He wants to shoot the ball every single time," Willis said. "We're just trying to get more guys to think like that and do it as a group. Get more people in the lanes, make it seem more clogged, give him (less) to work from."
Willis' assertion that Fredette has and utilizes an always-lit green light isn't really off-base.
In conference play, the gunner is averaging 22.3 shots per game, which makes up 36.1 of the Cougars' attempts.
The Rebels have long known that Fredette can shoot it from just about anywhere out to about 30 feet with comfort and confidence, but what's changed in the last few weeks appears to be his willingness to do so.
"I think it starting about a month ago, it seems, was when he really got on a roll of shooting it consistently from deep, deep range," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "I haven't seen anyone shoot it that well, that consistently over that length of time … I don't remember the last time anyone did that."
In UNLV's earlier loss to BYU at the Thomas & Mack Center, Willis started the game by covering his rival and did it well for the first six or seven minutes, holding Fredette to a 1-for-7 start from the floor.
Then, as Willis tired some and was limited more by the knee, Fredette worked off of numerous screens. As the Rebels switched several defenders onto him, he exploited those who were more inexperienced against him with Willis either on the bench or elsewhere on the floor.
Watching film of the game both the next day and during the few days leading up to Saturday's tilt in Provo drove home the point: If you relax even for a second on Fredette, he can find a way to score.
"He's very good, to start with, so he doesn't need much room," Kruger said. "It's not that you're wanting to give him room, it's also that he's very skilled. He's getting separation on everyone, and that's how he's getting the points. He can also go by you and get to the free throw line. All of those things combined make him a very difficult match-up."
Willis said that the Rebels will still execute their patented switches off of screens on the perimeter, but if Willis has a chance to either fight through with ease or if it's set on the weak side, he'll likely be sticking to Fredette.
"That's the plan," he said.
Making that possible is that right knee of his.
He hyperextended it on Jan. 12 against San Diego State, then sat the Rebels' next two games. After shaking off some rust against New Mexico on Jan. 22 as a reserve, Willis started the team's last two games, playing a season-high 36 minutes on Wednesday night in the home victory over Utah.
On top of being healthier, he's looking healthier in the way he's playing of late, and his cardiovascular endurance appears to be back to normal for the first time all season.
Willis was a driving force in UNLV's upset of BYU in Provo two years ago, then was crushed after the Rebels let a late six-point lead slip away into defeat in last year's trip to the Marriott Center.
Asked what atoning for a defeat that was hard to swallow for both he and the team on Jan. 5, he took the group approach.
"We want it bad," he said. "We don't like the way they did us here at home and we need every single one of these."
How BYU did UNLV in was with red-hot shooting, hitting 14 of its 28 3-point attempts. And it wasn't just Fredette who did the heavy lifting. Jackson Emery scored 22 points, including a 6-of-9 showing from deep, while sophomore big man Brandon Davies had 15 points and 10 rebounds.
And there's the key for BYU: Getting others around Fredette to produce.
Last season, his supporting cast was much deeper, and the Cougars beat the Rebels in Provo on a night when Fredette had next to no impact while battling mono.
In their loss last Saturday at New Mexico, Emery was just 2-of-8 from the floor and 2-of-7 from long range, and even a 32-point performance from Fredette wasn't enough.
Having seen what that cast around Fredette can do when its clicking will give UNLV a bit of added motivation heading in.
"They played a helluva game; they made shots," Willis said of the loss in January. "But we just want them to prove that they're a better team for the second time in a row. We feel like we're gonna go in there and just try to play our best basketball and see if that's enough."