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Current Rebels getting crash course in the BYU rivalry

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Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Tre’Von Willis talks with BYU guard Jimmer Fredette in the closing minutes of their game Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011, in Provo. BYU won 78-64.

The Rebel Room

Robotham Report

Should UNLV bench Noah Robotham? How long will his three-point shooting slump continue? Mike Grimala and Case Keefer discuss the polarizing point guard after dissecting other parts of the roster and the Rebels' three-game losing streak.

The last time UNLV and BYU faced each other on the basketball court, Jimmer Fredette scored 29 points in a Cougars win to become the Mountain West’s all-time leading scorer. That 2011 matchup — the 34th between the two schools — was only seven years ago, but in the college basketball landscape that is practically an eternity.

In the time since, BYU has left the Mountain West, UNLV has changed coaches (a couple times, technically), and dozens upon dozens of players have shuttled through each program. So when the teams meet up on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena to renew their once-heated rivalry, it might not feel quite the same as it did in the glory days of Kevin Kruger and Wink Adams.

Most of the current Rebels roster is unfamiliar with the idea of BYU as a hated foe. Senior point guard Noah Robotham, a Las Vegas native and Bishop Gorman grad, understands how intensely some fans treat the series, but he said his teammates may not realize it until they actually step on the court.

“I think it will be a great game, kind of a rivalry renewed,” Robotham said. “But in the same breath, there are new players and new teams and I think they’ll realize once they get out there how big of a deal it is.”

Neither program is at the height of its powers right now. BYU has been buried underneath Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference and hasn’t made the NCAA tournament in three years, while UNLV is currently 4-4 and in the midst of a painstaking rebuilding process. The stakes certainly are not as high as some of those old Mountain West tournament battles.

And, from the players’ perspective, it’s just been a long time since the rivalry was relevant. College players typically play four years at a school, so even though UNLV and BYU have an epic history as basketball adversaries, in the seven years since they last squared off almost two full college lifespans have elapsed.

UNLV freshman Marvin Coleman, for instance, grew up in Las Vegas and graduated from Foothill, but he’s so young that he has little recollection of a UNLV-BYU rivalry. He knows recent Rebels history, and he’s familiar with the national championship teams, but in between there’s a gap.

“It’s pretty new to me. I just know it’s a big rivalry, it’s always packed and it’s a big game,” Coleman said. “I was watching with Anthony Marshall and Mike Moser and guys like that when they were here. And back in the day with Greg Anthony and those guys, I just know about the national championships.”

Freshman Trey Woodbury is one Rebel who does understand the rivalry. The Clark grad remembers going to UNLV-BYU games with his father, a die-hard Rebels fan, and the old man made sure to pass on his disdain for BYU.

“There’s a lot of fire there, because when I was little we’d always be at the games and it would always be exciting,” Woodbury said. “The BYU fans are great, so it’s always a fun game and a fun environment. For my dad, I know it’s a big game for him. I know he really dislikes BYU, so this is going to be an exciting game.”

Woodbury has been doing his best to educate his teammates on the depth of UNLV fans’ animosity for BYU.

“It’s fun to talk about it because I can remember so many games growing up where it was BYU vs. UNLV and those were the best UNLV games of the year. So it’s easy for me to explain to them because I have so many great experiences with it.”

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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