Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011 | 9:32 p.m.
Las Vegas Sun reporters Ryan Greene, Case Keefer and Ray Brewer discuss the UNLV basketball team's loss to BYU to open Mountain West Conference play. The Rebels were victimized by Cougars star guard Jimmer Fredette and friends, and now have plenty of questions to answer moving forward.
Consider league play a marathon. Not a 50-yard dash.
The UNLV basketball team started its long haul in Mountain West Conference play Wednesday by falling to the back of the marathon’s pack of teams. An 89-77 home loss to rival BYU, however, is simply one leg of the race. There is plenty of basketball left.
While the temptation is obviously there after the Rebels blew a double-digit first half lead, there is no need to hit the panic button. At least not yet.
BYU star Jimmer Fredette, after struggling against UNLV at the Thomas & Mack Center for most of his storied career, finally got his revenge in what turned into an ugly setback for the Rebels. Fredette at times couldn’t miss in putting on a show, connecting on 7 of 13 of his 3-pointers to finish with a game-high 39 points.
As much as UNLV faithful love to hate Fredette, his performance certainly merits praise. He always finds ways to score and impact the game.
UNLV and BYU looked awfully similar in several facets of the game. The Cougars are great in transition, rely heavily on the outside shot and play aggressive pressure defense. It’s just BYU got hot at the right time late in the first half, erasing the deficit to lead by three points at halftime, then opening the second half on a 14-3 run to never trail again.
While losing doesn’t signal the end of the season — trust me, it doesn’t — it puts the Rebels in an awkward spot the rest of the way. Winning road games in the Mountain West is easier said than done, and the Rebels’ biggest rivals just grabbed a victory in hostile territory. More importantly, UNLV is going to have to steal a game back on the road, where they play next Wednesday at No. 6 San Diego State and next Saturday at Air Force.
Trailing by as many 21 points in their own building against a hated rival could potentially by demoralizing, especially after the Rebels started so strong in leading by 10 points with seven minutes to play in the first half. The players need to quickly put this loss behind them, realizing it is just one game. TCU, one of the league’s weaker teams, comes to town Saturday is what is a must-win.
It’s not that UNLV played too poorly. They just picked the wrong team to get into a 3-point shooting contest with. That’s what happens when you live and die with the outside shot, which continues to be UNLV’s plan of attack. It’s BYU’s strategy, too.
BYU made 14 of 28 of its 3-pointers. UNLV, meanwhile, only made five field goals in the initial 13 minutes of the second half in going ice cold. They made four of their first seven 3-pointers but only finished 7-of-19 from long distance.
It wasn’t all bad for UNLV.
The Rebels finally got significant contributions for their post players — Brice Massamba led them at halftime with eight points, and Carlos Lopez made an impact in limited minutes. Anthony Marshall had a team-high 26 points in 23 minutes off the bench in playing one his best game in his two-year career.
It’s just Chace Stanback hasn’t been himself the last two weeks in finishing with seven points, Tre’Von Willis only made 4-of-16 shots and the Rebels had no answers for BYU’s hot stroke from the outside. Perhaps Willis should not have given bulletin board material to Fredette earlier in the week.
Fortunately for UNLV, this was simply one game.