Friday, Dec. 14, 2018 | 2 a.m.
UNLV basketball against BYU in the late 2000s and early 2010s was as good of a rivalry as the Rebels have had in program history. You can argue it was one of the nation’s most fierce rivalries of the era.
“I think it’s a great little West Coast rivalry. On paper you’ve got a city like Las Vegas that enjoys glitz and glamor, and a city like Provo that’s kind of on the opposite end,” said Kevin Kruger, the star of the Rebels’ 2007 Sweet 16 team that beat BYU in the Mountain West championship game to help take the rivalry to new heights.
“In those years we were always competing for that top spot. We won the regular season a couple times, we won the tournament a couple times, and in Las Vegas it kind of settled into being a rivalry. It was definitely a lot of fun. ”
The rivalry, although not as heated as a decade ago because the teams no longer regularly meet, returns at 5:30 p.m. Saturday when the Rebels take on BYU at T-Mobile Arena.
The dislike still exists because of the fans — especially the many BYU faithful residing in Las Vegas. Each time BYU plays, whether it is in the West Coast Conference tournament at the Orleans Arena, or a football game at Sam Boyd Stadium, the Cougar faithful pack the stands.
A similar turnout is expected on the Strip.
Here’s a look at some of those great UNLV-BYU games. Maybe, just maybe, Saturday will be included on the list.
• The most memorable game — OK, only for UNLV fans — was the 2007 league tournament championship game. The Rebels trailed by 11 points at halftime before rallying for a 78-70 win. The band played “Viva Las Vegas” and fans stormed the court at the Thomas & Mack Center, enjoying the start to the greatest two-week stretch in program history since Anderson Hunt’s 3-pointer rattled in and out in the 1991 Final Four loss to Duke. Michael Umeh had 18 points to lead four Rebel scorers in double figures.
• The 2008 Mountain West title game, when UNLV was unstoppable in the second half, outscoring BYU by 19 points in a 76-61 win, was also memorable. And not only because of the action of the court. There was a fight in the stands after the game between the fan bases, which reportedly included “Psycho Sarah” Cummard, wife of BYU player Lee Cummard. When Lee attempted free throws at the Mack the following year, UNLV fans didn’t have their most proud moment by chanting “Psycho Sarah.”
The fans, Kruger says, made the rivalry more intense.
“I remember the first game my senior year, we had just gotten into the rankings and they beat us like crazy. To play them in the rubber match in the Thomas & Mack for the conference championship, and then the next year in an almost identical situation — the fans got more and more passionate each time.”
• BYU had one of the college game’s all-time greats in Jimmer Fredette, who UNLV guard Tre’Von Willis didn’t have a high opinion of. “I try to make (Fredette) earn everything he gets,” Willis said before a 2011 game. “Like I said, he’s got all of those (preseason All-America) accolades, but he’s gotta come in and prove it.” So, Jimmer went off for 39 points, including seven 3-pointers, in a BYU victory.
• You can’t talk UNLV-BYU without adding the UNLV football team’s 45-41 victory at BYU in 1981. BYU entered on a 17-game winning streak and was ranked No. 8 in the nation, but Sam King passed for nearly 500 yards in the UNLV win. You could argue it was one of the finest in Rebel program history, outside — of course — every win against UNR and the victory at Wisconsin in the John Robinson coaching era.