Notebook: Tre’Von Willis excited for sixth career meeting with BYU’s Jimmer Fredette

Rebels senior has proven over two seasons to be Cougar star’s toughest Mountain West foe, owning 4-1 record


Justin M. Bowen

UNLV’s Tre’Von Willis goes for the steal as BYU’s Jimmer Fredette drives it in during a Mountain West Conference Tournament semifinal game at the Thomas & Mack Center on March 12, 2010. UNLV advances to the finals with a 70-66 win.

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According to the media members who cast the votes, BYU guard Jimmer Fredette was the Mountain West Conference's top player entering his senior season.

Given his production as a junior, it was hard to argue.

UNLV's Tre'Von Willis, who in the last two years has defended and perplexed the Cougars' star better than anyone in the league, doesn't hand him the honors as easily.

"They've got a preseason All-American and supposedly the best player in the conference on the other team, so that's gonna be nothing but fun," the Rebels' senior guard said in reference to Wednesday's monster of a conference opener at the Thomas & Mack Center. "I try to make him earn everything he gets. Like I said, he's got all of those accolades, but he's gotta come in and prove it.

"I take wonderful pride in my defense with whoever I'm guarding, not just him."

Still, the extra boost Willis gets from this matchup multiple times per season is written all over his face when he talks about it. He gives a smile when the words 'BYU' or 'Fredette' are brought up in a question, then chooses the answer carefully.

Never one to publicly talk smack on an opponent, when it comes to the Rebels' biggest rival in the Mountain West, it's as close as you'll ever hear Willis get.

Making it acceptable, though, is the fact that since arriving at UNLV, he's backed it up.

Willis has drawn the assignment on Fredette for the bulk of their meetings, and in five games against UNLV in that span, the Rebels have proven to be the BYU star's toughest league foe to crack.

Since taking a prominent role for the Cougars at the start of the 2008-09 campaign, Fredette is 1-4 against UNLV. In those games, he's averaged a so-so 18.0 ppg, shot 32.4 percent from the floor, 33.3 percent from deep and has 15 assists compared to 14 turnovers.

The one BYU win over UNLV in that time was last year's conference opener, when the Cougars prevailed in Provo, 77-73, with Fredette sitting much of the second half while battling mononucleosis.

The sixth clash between Fredette and Willis, who last season was also a first team All-MWC performer, is on the horizon. No. 15 BYU (14-1) and No. 25 UNLV (12-2) will tip at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Mack, where the Rebels have knocked off the Cougars on eight straight occasions dating back to 2005.

All of Fredette's numbers have stayed pretty much the same from a year ago with the exception of his scoring, as he's averaging a career-best 24.1 points per game.

His shooting percentage of 47.5 remains consistent with the rest of his career to date, but he's also attempting roughly three shots more per game than a year ago, when Fredette helped carry the Cougars to the NCAA tournament's second round.

The load has increased following the loss of offensive stalwarts Jonathan Tavernari (graduation) and Tyler Haws (two-year mission) from last year's team. Some of the talent around him has struggled to hit full stride so far, making Fredette even more of a focal point.

Willis isn't yet matching his numbers from a year ago, when he was a very real challenger to Fredette for league Player of the Year honors. (17.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.5 apg, in 2009-10; 11.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.0 apg this season). However, he's now coming back into his own physically following off-season knee surgery and a four-game suspension to start the year.

According to Willis, the game plan for guarding Fredette and making him as inefficient as possible remains the same.

"You've always got to have a hand up over the ball," he said. "You can't relax, that's basically the key. He's so good at changing his speeds that if you relax, he may make it seem like he's going to run some offense and then he'll just shoot it. If you relax on him he's got that quick trigger."

Bellfield still sore, but pressing on

UNLV junior guard Oscar Bellfield is still battling soreness in his right wrist, which he jammed on a fall against Southern Utah on Dec. 18.

Since then, the Rebels have played twice, and he's played a team-high 67 minutes in those two games. In games and practices, he's participating with a heavy tape wrap over the ailing area.

"I really just played through it and tried not to focus on it," he said. "And actually, after it gets loosened up, I can't really feel (the pain) as much.

"I'm taking care of it, icing it, playing through it, knowing that it's gonna hurt a little bit, but you don't let it affect you."

Bellfield is no stranger to fighting through nagging injuries.

Last season, he suffered a painful bone bruise in his right knee against BYU on Feb. 6, and despite having to sit out some practice time, played in the team's remaining 11 games.

In the two games since hurting his wrist, Bellfield is 6-of-16 from the floor and 4-of-8 from long range with eight assists and seven turnovers. He hit the clinching trey against Kansas State on Dec. 21 and three late daggers from outside against Central Michigan on Dec. 30.

Future of UNLV-BYU series still unclear

UNLV and BYU in recent years have formed one of the MWC's most vicious rivalries.

Whether that series continues after this season, with the Cougars moving to the West Coast Conference for all sports outside of football, is not yet determined.

"We haven't talked about it specifically," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said of himself and BYU coach Dave Rose. "Certainly, we'd like to keep it going at some point. I don't know about here in the near future because of all the conference realignment. You don't know how many conference games we've got, how many non-conference games we've got on the schedule, so that's a little bit up in the air for us, anyhow.

"But at some point in the future, we'd love to get it going again."

The players who have helped stir the pot in the series — including those who won't be around past this season — agree.

"I'd like to see it because it's a rivalry," Willis said. "Both schools don't have much liking for each other, and it's fun when you win to look at them walking out of your building with their heads down. I think they should keep playing once a year."

No changes to starting lineup

Though Brice Massamba's first start of the 2010-11 season didn't go so hot last Thursday against CMU, he'll get a shot at some redemption.

The junior, who started 16 games a year ago, went without a point or a rebound, fouling out after 10 minutes in the 73-47 rout. He'll start again on Wednesday against BYU along with Bellfield, Willis, senior Derrick Jasper and junior Chace Stanback.

Meanwhile, sophomore Kansas transfer Quintrell Thomas, who was moved to a reserve role to help him avoid chronic early foul trouble, had a nice eight-point, eight-rebound showing in 17 minutes off the bench against the Chippewas.

On the season, Thomas is averaging 6.1 points and 4.3 boards in 14.6 minutes a game, while Massamba is posting 4.3 points and 1.9 caroms while playing 16.4 minutes per outing.

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  1. Lets not forget the one game that BYU did win in Provo, the Rebels had them beat but failed to hit a few closing free throws and had some unexplained TOs in the last minute or so.

    Let's go Tre'Von, hand him his lunch one more time. Make him feel like Bobby Hurley in the NC.

  2. Stingy defense Rebs! Our bigs gonna need some help with the slashers in this game so they don't foul too much. 1 more day for the big game!

  3. I don't like the lineups so I see us starting out slow which can be devastating.

    Nonetheless, in order for us to win we will need an unsung hero! A slasher to the hoop to commit the fouls and get either Jimmer or Jackson in foul trouble. Its that time Marshall....to excel and launch yourself above your own game. You and hawkins will be pinnacle in this game...guard play big time. And we have trouble defending the perimeter so they better pull it together or we can get soaked.

  4. Anyone else catch the Jackson Emery comments about BYU being a one loss team at the end of the regular season?
    Not gonna happen Jackson! Runnin' Rebels!

  5. Big game, Rebels. Stick it to them!

  6. BYU are so hyped up, they have not beat a ranked opponent in years, and have beat Chicago St. and Weber St. in their non-conf. schedule...how does that make you #15 in the land when all you play is marshmellows? Jimmer is weak and and a ball hog, put some D on him like last year when they got killed by UNLV. Plus he won't do anything if he does go to the NBA, and not get shot back like last year, and every other BYU NBA player since Ainge. BYU is overrated and between us and SDST they are going to get worked, like every other March....LETS GO REBELS! send these scrubs back to PROVO! Haven't done anything in hoops since 1895 when Brigham Young founded Utah!

  7. I wouldn't get too hyped up RunninReb07. The key to winning this game is giving YBU the respect they deserve. We have more losses than they do, one against arguably a weaker opponent in UCSB. The Rebels need to ramp up the defense and limit turnovers. Hopefully Chase's shooting touch comes back full force. Can't wait for the game.

  8. Can't give a team respect that has beat nobody worth respecting...we lost to UCSB but they lost to UCLA who are horrible this year. We beat Wisconsin, VA Tech, KSTATE, and Murray State who were all in the Tourney last year. I can't name one team BYU has beat that is worth anything.....and Jimmer puts up big numbers against marshmellow teams not top 25 teams.

  9. According to RPI.com, BYU is ranked 4th and UNLV 22nd...BYU's strength-of-schedule is 26th and UNLV's 62nd...SOS will go up for both teams after this game too!!

  10. said the team that got upset by the visitors. I'm glad Coach Kruger won't let the players think like that.

  11. Wasn't Darington Hobson the conference Player of the Year last year?

  12. Wispy, you are correct, typo fixed above. Thank you for pointing out.

  13. Looks like we got BYU boys trying to comment....to bad Cougar boy got removed, stay in PROVO!

  14. UNLV's Defense > BYU's offense.

  15. @RunninReb07.....Unfortunately you are off base on this one. There isn't a bigger critic then myself when it comes to BooHoo's non conference schedule in the past. They are notorious for winning 28+ games with most of that coming in a non-conference slate that rates in the high 100's in SOS. Which is why they always embarass the conference in the NCAA tourney. But this year they have wins against Vermont (10-3), Arizona (12-3), Creighton (10-5), Saint Mary's (12-2), and Utah St (13-2). Their non-conference SOS ended up higher than ours, and by the way, Va Tech was NOT in the NCAA tournament last year. I'm the staunchest of BYU haters....I take pride in my "antics" during any UNLV BYU matchup in any sport. But credit must be given where credit is due, and BooHoo has a very nice NCAA resume to this point.

  16. Sorry AJ, I have to disagree. Although those teams have sparkling records, when they played quality competition they got thumped. USU loan quality game was against Georgetown, which they lost. Creighton played 3 against Iowa St, Northwestern and Nebraska, they lost all three. Vermont's one game was against UCONN, they lost., St Mary's beat a couple so so power conference teams, I think Texas Tech, but was crushed by SDSU. AZ is BYUs only win against a quality opponent. The only chance BYU has in winning is if UNLV continues their funk in shooting, in my opinion. Which is highly possible considering the last few games.

  17. Well, we have a sparkling record too. But look at our "big wins" and tell me who really stands out. Wisconsin (11-3) has 1 good win and 1 nice win, (Minnesota, Marquette), Virginia Tech (9-4) doesn't even have a good win, Murray State (9-4) doesn't have a good win either, and Kansas St was missing Pullen and Kelly. If you discredit those other records for their lack of "good" opponents, than you have to look at ours with the same scorn. Unfortunately, if we don't get our shots to fall, then we are in trouble tomorrow. Chace's ability to score from 15' and out will determine the outcome tomorrow. His offense just opens up so many other things for the rest of the team.

  18. Can't wait for the tip-off @ 7. Liljoe's "key to the game"? In a word, turnovers. If the Rebels can turn Fredette and the Cougars over more than 6 or 7 times in the first half, this bodes well for the good guys. As usual with this year's team, shooting accuracy will be crucial. Let's hope that Chace can break out of this slump, and Tre distributes the ball, and AM and Jasper drive the zone and kick, or at least pass to the big men once or twice each possession. Go Rebels.

  19. Will be interesting to see whether the cats come out in a zone or man-to-man D. I predict a surprisingly easy Rebels victory, something like UNLV 77, BYU 66. Rebels depth will be too much for BYU, and Jackson Emery will be a little more humble with his predictions in the future.

  20. Ya Chicago State, and Weber State who BYU barely beat...and Arizona are terrible this year. Sorry BYU needs to beat a ranked team every 5 years to be considered a #15 team, and they barely beat Weber St. without their leading scorer, sorry but KSTATE without Pullen is still better than any team BYU has beaten...they marshmellow, watch tonight!

  21. I hope we beat the crap out of them tonight. I'm just saying that they are far from marshmallow. And Arizona barely lost to #6 Kansas on the road....so according to your logic than Kansas is terrible, since they barely beat Arizona, who lost to BYU, who barely beat Weber St. According to you we are marshmallow too, since we barely beat a 9-5 Boise State team. Or how about the fact we lost to a 7-5 UCSB team? Using your half brained logic RunninRebel07, then you HAVE to consider us more marshmallow than BYU. We have a handfull of wins over 9 and 10 win teams that haven't beaten anybody and they have a handfull of wins over 10 and 12 win teams that havent beaten anybody. Now a person with a good understanding of competition and basketball will understand that both of these teams are very nice basketball teams with very nice records and have a handfull of very nice wins on their resume.

  22. That previous comment ended up being pretty rude, and I didn't intend for that. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that BYU is far from a soft team, and so are we. An argument can be made that both are soft, but it holds no real merit. I hope we get a very nice win at home tonight. I think it will go a long way around tournament time. I'm very leary about how much hype is being put on BYU's losing streak here, as well as the fact we haven't played particularly well lately. Our defense needs to reeemerge and be as suffocating as it was in the first 9 or so games. Especially if our shooting is as off as it's been.

  23. Agreed....but BYU has yet to beat a ranked team this year and we have. And we have played a tougher schedule than BYU against tougher opponents, and away from home. We need to step it up with our D and get the crowd into it, or it will be a long night....GO REBS!

  24. We shot about 55% in the second half of the last game. I'm hoping to continue that trend, because we shot about 50% overall last year, with nearly the same team. Jimmer has been throwing up about 35% of all of BYU's shots. Willis has something to say about that tonight. Rebels!

  25. It should be a great game with an incredible atmosphere, I hope the Mack is rocking tonight. Two ranked teams starting out their conference play, you can't ask for more. I think it could actually go either way, Tre the Jimmer stopper is a step slower this year and we STILL have no bigs. Althou with Hawk and Marshall I think the defense will be fine. The way BYU pushes the ball plays into UNLV's hands as it should lead to a lot of open court scoring not having to reley on our half court(stand still) offense. If we shot well and keep Jimmer ,I get every call and go to the free throw line way to much, Ferdette off the line we should win handily.

    GO REBS!!!

  26. That picture above has "reach" written all over it!

    BYU finally beat that ranked opponent tonight

    Only the flu can beat Jimmer....better bring some when you come to Provo Tre'von!