REBELS BASKETBALL:

UNLV catches fire early, blasts No. 12 BYU, 88-74

Willis’s career-high 33 points and nastiness across the board help lift Rebels into three-way tie atop the Mountain West Conference standings

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Tre’Von Willis is congratulated by fans on Saturday as he exits the court at the Thomas & Mack Center following the Rebels’ 88-74 victory against BYU. Willis had a career-high 33 points.

#12 BYU vs UNLV

Led by a Tre'Von Willis career-high 33 points, UNLV upended twelfth-ranked BYU 88-74 for the Rebels' seventh straight win over the Cougars at the Thomas & Mack.

UNLV-BYU Basketball

UNLV guard Tre'Von Willis watches his layup go in against BYU Saturday, Feb. 6, 2010, at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV upset 12th-ranked BYU 88-74. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

BYU POSTGAME: A hot, hot first half ... and more

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Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer break down UNLV's 88-74 whipping of No. 12 BYU on Saturday afternoon at the Mack to pull even with the Cougars atop the Mountain West Conference standings. The guys give you the key points from the Rebels' 19th win of the season, plus handicap the race for the league's regular season title moving forward.

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Shot after shot went in, the margin grew wider by the second and the number of fans in disbelief grew rapidly.

Few — if any — of the 18,557 in attendance on Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center, however, could quantify how blistering hot the Rebels were in the first half quite like former UNLV All-American Larry Johnson.

"No, we never shot it like that," said Johnson, who led the Rebels to the 1990 NCAA championship and was seated behind the UNLV bench with former coach Jerry Tarkanian. "They shot the lights out."

A blazing-yet-efficient first half set UNLV up for what was pretty much an inconsequential second half in an 88-74 victory over No. 12 BYU, marking the seventh consecutive victory for the Rebels on their home floor over the Cougars.

UNLV (19-4 overall, 7-2 Mountain West) in the process tied itself with BYU (22-3, 7-2) atop the league standings and may very well vault back into the Top 25 polls come Monday.

"We got on a bit of a roll there where you're just making shots and the margin just kind of happens," Kruger said.

The margin was as large as 29 points in the first half, and by the time BYU could stop and breathe after 20 minutes of action, Dave Rose's team trailed 56-34.

It was one of those freak instances where seemingly no one could miss, no matter who touched the ball. At halftime, UNLV was 20-of-31 from the floor, including a 9-of-13 showing from long range.

Chace Stanback scored five points right out of the gates for UNLV, while reserve forward Matt Shaw was a huge catalyst early, draining a trio of 3-pointers before the half.

But no one put a stamp on the game quite like Tre'Von Willis, who in a 77-73 loss in Provo on Jan. 6 scored a game-high 24 points but committed seven turnovers, including several which led to a late game collapse for UNLV.

He hit two quick 3-pointers, and by using a variety of moves combined with great feel and pace in a frenzied environment, the Rebels' star junior had 21 points by halftime.

"That was a pretty efficient 21," Kruger said of Willis's 6-of-9 first half shooting. "It didn't even look like he had the ball that much and he got 21."

Willis finished with a career-high 33 points, besting his previous mark of 30 which was set just two Saturdays ago in a 79-70 win at TCU.

The stat Willis may have taken the most pride in, though, was his eight assists compared to zero turnovers.

"Tre's got a high pride level, very competitive," Kruger said. "When things don't work out once, he's going to come back and battle again. That's the great thing about him."

Another victim of Willis's payback warpath was BYU star guard Jimmer Fredette, who once again couldn't find a way to impose his will on UNLV.

Fredette finished with a nice stat line, which included 21 points, seven rebounds and six assists, but hardly any of it held any weight, as he was guarded heavily by a gang of Rebels — including Willis — and was forced to take bad shot after bad shot. Most of his points came after UNLV had already built a comfortable double-digit edge.

He entered the game shooting 47.4 percent from the floor this season but was just 4-of-15 on Saturday.

The difference in showings between Willis and Fredette also may have tightened the race even more for Player of the Year honors in the MWC.

"I like to play against the best players," Willis said. "I wanted to take on the fight and make him work as hard as he could to earn his buckets and whatever that meant. It was a team effort. All the guards did a good job on him."

Added guard Oscar Bellfield: "It's a great feeling when we threw different players at him and tried to get him exhausted. He still got his, but we contained him pretty well."

The team effort was something everyone was wanting to talk about after the game.

It may sound like a cliché topic, but it was the finest example UNLV had shown all season in not just playing with good effort across the board, but with a collective chip-on-the-shoulder attitude at the same time.

Stanback violently ripped down several of his career-high 14 rebounds. Willis was more than willing to put a paw on Fredette or in his face almost every time the two squared off. Shaw maintained a steely facial expression after each of his crowd-charging threes went in.

Those were just a few examples.

"It's contagious," Willis said. "When one guy, two guys, three guys, four guys grows into five guys and the bench, you've got the eye of the tiger and you're ready to compete and take on fights. It's pretty tough to beat.

"It's pretty hard for a team to contain that when you bring so much energy."

Bellfield chalked that team-wide nastiness up to the progression he feels the team has made throughout conference play.

Finding that mental rhythm couldn't have come at a better time for the Rebels, as they'll host the other team that has a share of the three-way tie atop the league standings — No. 15 New Mexico (21-3, 7-2) — in an 8 p.m. tilt.

The Lobos earned their way into the logjam on Saturday by outlasting San Diego State (15-6, 5-4) in overtime down in Albuquerque, 88-86. The Rebels will see the Aztecs next Saturday in San Diego.

Is it fair to expect the Rebels to catch fire across the board like they did on Saturday afternoon? Probably not.

But UNLV having the same hardened mental approach is a different story.

"The Mountain West is a good league. You can't take nights off, and we're starting to learn that," Willis said. "We knew all week long that the stakes are high. We knew we had a tough one in Wyoming and a tough one today.

"It pays off to see us tied for first, but we know our duties are not over."

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  1. Well, I didn't make this one, but I sure had fun watching the first half on good old Versus. Not only did we blow BYU away, but I didn't have to listen to the awful, biased commentators on The Mountain make excuses for the Cougs. Great win for the Rebels. Looks like rather than falling apart like last year, we're getting hot at the right time. And like clockwork, the second I start complaining about Wallace being out there, he heats up, hits some threes and even goes to the hole. It's consistent as gravity.

  2. Great win for sure. The three ball blew the game open (like the K-State game, but in our favor) but we did a LOT of things right.

    Top 25 here we come!

    And Sufferin, your dark hole called, it wants you back.

  3. I was pretty impressed with Kendall Wallace's contribution. He was much more active than I have ever seen him. Cutting to the rim, getting out on the break, helping on the boards. I tip my hat to him he was not just a shooter today. Also kudos to Matt Shaw. Great shooting and those passes out of the post(backdoor to Willis, and the dime to Wallace cutting through the lane)were awesome. Big time step up in Jasper's absence. So nice to see the Rebs peeking at the right time. Another huge one Wednesday. Runnin' Rebels!

  4. Rebs have really improved their rebounding, much more aggressive.

  5. C'mon Rebel fans give me a break! UNLV men 88 BYU men 74 -- BYU women 76 UNLV women 60 BYU wins the day by a net 2 points.

  6. Awww CougFan,

    That was sweet. Nothing against women, but I assure you that nobody in Provo is thinking about that right now.

    I am excited to see your ranking drop. :)

  7. CougARfan......really?

  8. Great intensity and great win Rebels! Bring it again on Wednesday the Slowbos can't run with the Rebels!!!

  9. i think the rebels are a very focused team right now.. and getting hot! they need to keep up their intensity.. the last 5 mins of the game i thought were garbage. sure we were up by 20, but still i'd like to see them finish out the game with the same intensity. maybe play the bench how rose did. (thinking about it.. it looked like the bench was out playing unlv at the end) other than that. i couldn't believe the score at half time. i doubt any of the bywhoo fans could either. as for UNM, hoboson went for 29 today against San Diego, i doubt he gets anywhere near that at the mack. we need to pack the mack again wednesday night! i'm glad my class gets out at 6:45!

  10. I absolutely loved how loud that building was today. It was a great win and one we should have seen coming since this is the seventh (please correct me if I am wrong) straight game the Rebels have beaten BYU at the Mack.
    On that note, Ryan, is there a way for us to get in touch with the student section. Those idiots rushed the court for a second time this season. Both times UNLV was favored. They are 7-3 against the Cougars the last 4 years. Take a look at recent history morons.
    And Brice laying out Jimmer was great too.

  11. Has anyone noticed how Fredette never gets called for travelling? Everytime he drives to the basket, he puts his head and shoulder down and takes 4 or 5 steps before doing anything. He did that at LEAST 5 times that I saw...
    Great game, great crowd, great day to be a Rebel fan!!! I, for one, missed Jasper's slam dunks in a game like this. Could you imagine how nutts that crowd would have gone if we had a few more slam dunks?

  12. Best game I've seen UNLV play at the T&M since '07 when the sweet 16 team beat BYU in the MWC championship game. Can anyone recall a better game? Can't wait for Wednesday!!

  13. How awesome was that? The atmosphere in the Thomas and Mack was unbelievable (and deservedly so!) It's always great when we can beat BYU in anything but to blow them out on national TV when they are ranked in the top 15 is icing on the cake. The Rebs can't let their guard down, however, and need to come out with just as much intensity against UNM that they did today. I'm sure they will.

    P.S. Rebeltob- The only other game(s) I can think of that are close were both in '08 against BYU. The first one was similar to today where we blew them out by 20, and the second was another MWC championship game that pretty much played out to the exact same script as the '07 final. This one is pretty hard to top though.

  14. @ Zero - you better get someone to save you a seat, or you WILL NOT get one at 6:45 in the student section!

    @ runnin19 - dude, first of all, only a small portion of the team rushed the court. Dont single our 2,500 when there was about 150 who did the rushing. Second of all,it is our biggest rival in conference (even if their fans don't see it that way). So if a few people got over excited, SO WHAT? Those are the same kids who are there is that front row at every game, and they just watched their team have it's biggest and most complete game of the year. Its not what I would have done, its not what you would have done, but its not as big of a deal as some people are making it out to be.

  15. Great day. What Kruger has done to revitalize Runnin' Rebel basketball in this town is amazing. (LJ saying they never shot like that made me chuckle. Nice lead, Ryan.)

    Loved the atmosphere! That took me and my wife way, way back. Ready for Wednesday night already. Are we playing UCSB or New Mexico in a big league game?

    Thank you, Coach, Tre, Oscar, Chace, Matt and Co. Going to be a great Super Bowl Sunday. Hope everyone has a good day.

  16. @ Dev just an FYI the game starts at 8pm and the doors open 1 hour before tip so Zero better hustle but there is hope...lol

    Also have to say it is funny to watch 50-100 students walk down to the student section 5 minutes before tip or durning the gamebe and get upset when there are no seats. To funny!

  17. Observations of the day -- At 11:30am on game day a crowd of at least 100 people were standing on the student entrance in the rain to get in. I have no idea of how long they had been waiting but once the doors opened students ran up the stairs to get the best seats. By 11:40am the first 10 rows on all the student sections were full. As a former student & graduate of UNLV and going in with a current student I had never scene an atmosphere at UNLV were such excitement existed. I have been to a few homes games this season as well as years past but I have never seen anything like that here. I know when I atteneding UNLV in the early 2000's you could walk in at the start of the game and still get a great low seat. Maybe in the early 90's it was like that and I hope this continues but WOW. The crowd was in it all day and sitting in the student section it was only better. The intensity and following of the game it self was un-believable. So students of UNLV keep it up.
    As far as rushing the court I wish the ones that did had not done so. It was a big game and intense game but we were favored to win (granted it was by 1) but I feel that shows that we were surprised to have won the game when it was clearly over in the first half. Students are what makes the atmosphere great but keep in mind teams that are favored to win and do win at home don't rush the court as often as we do.

  18. As far as close games go that I have seen that was equally exciting was the TCU game back in the tournament a couple years ago when both teams were exchanging 3's constantly. Other than that the BYU games have always been the best ones (since I've been a student).

  19. Yeah oddjob, I was one of those students waiting in the rain for the doors to open!

    One thing I think the croud needs to stop is the "Over rated" chant. All that does is say "We would not have been able to beat you if you were REALLY a 12th ranked team!" If the other team is over rated, it cheapens the win for us!

  20. Oh, LV I thought the game started at 7...

  21. Check out Espn.com and look at ncaa home page, UNLV is getting some respect.

  22. @Devgpaul
    How about I just get on the 2,500 students that can't get the cadence right on the Rebels chant without the band. You need to slow down. It sounds like airball.
    And those 150 that did the weakest rush in history were lucky Psycho Sarah wasnt at the game. Save it for a win on March 13th. If that happens I'll be on the floor too.

  23. yeah, you can get on us for that...

  24. Nice to see Tre gettin' player of the week at ESPN. Also seeing the Rebs earning national praise. Let's get these next two wins and see what else they have to say about us. Should get the ESPN team of the week(not just the runner up) if they beat New Mexico and SDSU this week and I would imagine Tre probably up there again for player of the week.

  25. Not a bad win for an NIT team. ;)

  26. Some more Tre'von love from the bleacher report:
    [url]http://bleacherreport.com/articles/341091-mountain-west-basketball-poy-as-easy-as-one-two-tre[/url]

  27. Big win for UNLV and an awesome feeling being there at the Mack. If the crowd would actually come out and fill the arena every night (or at least for more than one game per year), the players would feed off the energy and have more big games like this.

    Wednesday night's game against New Mexico is a HUGE game now. They are 4-0 against ranked teams, and UNLV will likely be ranked by game time. If UNLV can knock off the Lobos, they'll be in great shape for the MWC Tournament and should get a boost for two straight BIG wins against nationally-ranked teams.

    Fill the Thomas & Mack again on Wednesday! (...could be first back-to-back sellout in more than a decade!)

  28. Holy crap, what an awesome article from the bleacher report! You guys have got to check it out.

  29. Unlv back in the ranks! #23

  30. UNLV RANKING

    AP= 23
    ESPN= 25

  31. Everyone needs to invite all their friends and family out! So glad this game is at 8 pm for all those that usually complain about working till 6 . Plenty of time for you to get there.

  32. That was the most fun I have ever had at a sporting event. And also the loudest game I've ever been too. The Rebs are ranked again and rightfully so. Tre'Von Willis is ESPN's player of the week. It doesn't get much better than that.

  33. I was the eighth or ninth person lining up before the game in the rain at 9:40, and wow, it was worth it. I agree that the students shouldn't rush the court- I was telling my friends not to but they did anyway. Oh well. Great game by the Rebels!