MWC TOURNAMENT:

UNLV caps memorable night for MWC by ousting BYU, 70-66

Willis’s late heroics help Rebels to tournament title game, where they’ll meet San Diego State at 4 p.m.

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Justin M. Bowen

Tre’Von Willis of UNLV gets fired up during a timeout in Friday’s Mountain West Conference Tournament game against BYU at the Thomas & Mack Center.

UNLV Advances to Title Game

Brice Massamba scored a career-high 13 points, as UNLV improves to 4-0 against BYU in Mountain West Conference Tournament play, beating the Cougars, 70-66.

UNLV-BYU MWC semifinals

UNLV guard Anthony Marshall dunks against BYU during Friday's Mountain West Conference Tournament game. UNLV upset the No. 2-seeded Cougars 70-66 and will face San Diego State in the championship. Launch slideshow »

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The Rebel Room

BYU POSTGAME: MWC shines as a whole on this night

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Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer do their best in trying to re-live a night to remember at the Mountain West Conference tournament, which was capped by UNLV advancing to the title game with a 70-66 victory over BYU. Plus, a look ahead to the championship tilt between the Rebels and San Diego State, who UNLV has had a tougher time matching up with this season than any other league opponent.

It was quite possibly the most significant night in the 11-year history of Mountain West Conference men's basketball, with four NCAA tournament-bound teams playing in two hotly-contested semifinals in front of the first sellout crowd in league tournament history.

And UNLV junior guard Tre'Von Willis out-dueled BYU's Jimmer Fredette in what turned out to be a more thrilling capper to the evening than anyone could have asked for.

The Rebels' star put away six of his team's seven points in the final minute, pushing UNLV into today's 4 p.m. tournament championship game against San Diego State with a 70-66 victory over the No. 14 Cougars.

"I love competition, and in everybody's eyes, (Fredette) is the best player in the conference. I take that kind of personally," Willis said of the fellow first-team all-league guard. "I definitely looked to coach, he definitely looked in my eyes and I definitely was ready."

Willis finished with a team-high 18 points on just 5-of-9 shooting and was 6-of-6 from the free throw line.

Fredette scored a game-high 30 points, but he wasn't nearly as efficient as he was in scoring 45 in Thursday's 95-85 quarterfinal victory against TCU.

The 30 points were as hard-earned as you'll find. The junior super-scorer was just 7-of-20 from the floor, and a night after he attempted 24 free throws against the Horned Frogs, was visibly frustrated that more of UNLV's hounding defensive efforts weren't cut short with whistles.

"I wanted to do my best to limit him, make him take the most guarded, tough shots as possible, and he got 30. But we did a pretty good job," Willis said of the efforts put forth by himself, Oscar Bellfield, Anthony Marshall and others. "You have to stay down, not go for any pump-fakes, because he's kind of crafty. Like I said, we did a good job."

However, early on, it looked like just about anyone on the floor was going to be able to score 30 points if they so much as took off their warm-ups.

The two teams combined to sink nine 3-pointers in the game's first six minutes. And with BYU leading 17-14 after that flurry of jumpers, Fredette hit a shot in close to push the Cougars' lead to five points.

After that, the Rebels' used a variety of methods to construct a 9-0 run, capped by a mid-range shot from Bellfield.

With the lead in hand, UNLV tightened the screws across the board on the defensive end — especially on Fredette and senior sharp-shooter Jonathan Tavernari.

The Rebels held the upper hand until late, when Fredette and Palo Verde High grad, Michael Loyd Jr., helped orchestrate an 8-0 run to put the Cougars ahead, 61-59, with 2:51 to play.

In that spurt, Fredette began to shake loose, hitting an NBA-range 3-pointer atop the key to make it a 59-56 game, then tying it with three free throws after being fouled on another deep attempt.

Meanwhile, UNLV had endured a decent offensive drought, which sophomore forward Chace Stanback then ended with an 18-foot baseline jumper to even things up and again awaken a crowd filled with far more scarlet than blue.

It set the stage for Willis's biggest offensive moment of the night.

BYU's Brandon Davies, with the Cougars trailing 63-61 following a clutch pair of Brice Massamba free throws, split a one-and-one trip to the line.

With the Rebels holding a one-point edge still, Willis took the ball from Bellfield on the left wing and had an isolated one-on-one with Cougar guard Jackson Emery.

From there, Willis lowered his head, charged forward with the ball and hit an off-balance bank shot in close to push UNLV ahead by three.

"Tre'Von's their go-to-guy," Emery said. "I did my best to get up in him and make it hard, but he's a good player and he's gonna make good shots sometimes."

What made it all that much more impressive for Willis was that he had to leave the game momentarily earlier in the second half after injuring his left ankle, which was heavily iced in the locker room afterward.

"We always expect him to come through for us," Stanback said. "He's our warrior. He's our leader. We follow him. Whatever he does is positive for our team."

Five free throws from there on — four from Willis and another from Massamba — sealed UNLV's eighth consecutive victory against BYU at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Stanback and Massamba both had monster nights for the Rebels. Stanback finished with 17 points and six rebounds, while Massamba scored a career-high 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting to go with six boards of his own.

Those points didn't come easy for UNLV's emerging interior force. Several times early, he took BYU's big men off the dribble and scored tough buckets inside with little space to spare.

"He's starting to get more comfortable, more confident in finishing opportunities in the post," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "A big part of our having a lead at halftime was Brice's play in the first half."

Bellfield had nine assists, and in three games this season against UNLV's biggest rival, he has posted a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Loyd was the only other Cougar in double figures with 11 points, while Tavernari — a Bishop Gorman product — missed out on his last shot to beat the Rebels at the Mack. He was held to just four points on 1-of-5 shooting and no rebounds in 17 minutes.

And even though only two of the four teams that took the floor on Friday night advanced, it's hard to tell if anyone really lost.

The biggest winner may have been the Mountain West as a whole.

Both BYU (29-5) and No. 8 New Mexico (29-4) — who suffered a 72-69 setback at the hands of San Diego State — are locks to be included in the NCAA tourney's field of 65 come Sunday night.

The games were every bit as high-quality as anything you'd find in any other league's postseason conference, only helping boost the league's fledgling hoops credibility.

"There's a lot of talent in this league," Stanback said. "I think people don't really realize that."

So what is left to play for on Saturday, when UNLV (25-7) and SDSU (24-8) meet for the tournament title?

Both the Rebels and Aztecs have already solidified their NCAA tourney resumés and now are playing for seeding.

On the UNLV side, the Rebels would probably like to set themselves up to avoid being either an eight- or nine-seed in the NCAAs, which could lead to a potential second-round match-up against a top-seeded club.

A win on Saturday more than likely gets that accomplished.

Coincidentally, it comes against the team which UNLV has had the toughest time matching up against this season.

What's made the Aztecs such a nuisance for the Rebels is their length and athleticism on the front line with freshman Kawhi Leonard and juniors Malcolm Thomas and Billy White.

White scored a career-high 28 points in SDSU's semifinal win, as the Aztecs advanced to the league championship game as a four-seed for the second consecutive season. Last year, they fell to Utah, 52-50.

The two split the regular season series, with UNLV knocking off SDSU in Las Vegas on Jan. 13, 76-66, then falling to Steve Fisher's squad on the road on Feb. 13, 68-58.

The biggest area of concern for UNLV will be in the rebounding department. In the two meetings combined, the Rebels were out-boarded 83-65.

"Earlier in the season when we played them, that's when we were really struggling rebounding the ball," Willis said. "We're a totally different team now, and we are gonna try to take the fight to them, and rebounding is definitely gonna be a key for us.

"Right now, we feel like we have some unfinished business. And we feel like this is our building. Even though it says Mountain West out there on the floor, we still know this is a Runnin' Rebel building and we're definitely trying to defend it."

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Previous Discussion: 32 comments so far…

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  1. It's Scarlet..... not Crimson.

  2. Ah you're right. Fixed it.

  3. Your right ksiffermann, those commentator's were like Jimmer's own personal hype men. It was hard to listen to. I think the Rebs will make a statement today and let the college basketball world know who the best team in the Mountain West really is. Rebs 79-67. Then a 6 seed could be hoped for. See you all at the T&M.

  4. The Rebel Invitational is a pitiful method for determining who earns the Mountain West's automatic Tournament bid. The Rebs missed their chance to prove they were the best team in the Mountain West back in January and February. The MWC tournament affirms that they can win at home. Big Whoop!!

  5. Can someone let Massamba know that we don't mind if he plays like that every night. Crazy!! Was afraid that Tre'Von was never going to take over. When he did, that was the difference. He has to be that guy every night!

    Great job Rebs. Let's wrap it up today. SDSU is nasty.

    Lar'Ry

  6. Here is what BYU fans cannot admit - UNLV is a bad matchup for them. It's that simple. Like Utah is for UNLV and even Air Force is for UNLV, BYU's style of play does not work against UNLV. The Rebels are both athletic and smart. They get back in transition and stop BYU's incredible transition offense.

    SDSU controlled UNLV at the Thomas & Mack last year in the tournament because it was the better team. NM beat UNLV at the T&M this year in front of 18,000 Rebel fans because - on that night - it was the better team. (Just like UNLV was at The Pit in January.) Utah was a bad matchup and beat UNLV in front of a big crowd at the T&M because it has a favorable matchup and it earned the win.

    UNLV beat BYU in Provo last season and out-played them for 36 minutes up there this year. Playing at the T&M is an advantage, but how much? Not enough to guarantee wins. (NM was basically playing a home game yesterday and lost.) UNLV is a bad matchup for BYU. This is about what happens on the court, not on which court. Even Coach Rose understands the matchup issue.

    What a great night for the Mountain West. Best atmosphere for a conference tournament in the Nation!!! Props to the NM and BYU fans for representing. And you gotta love the SDSU students.

    Gonna be a tough one today for the Rebels. We are proud of you guys! U-N-L-V!!!

  7. I didn't hear New Mexico or Utah complaining when they beat us here this year. Same with SDSU last year in the first round of the tournament when they beat us handily. The home court advantage excuses are over. Especially when that whining moron Flopper Fredette gets every imaginable, imaginary call from the idiot officialls down the stretch and yet, we still beat them.

  8. Just curious but where is lobo69? If I remember correctly he predicted a .500 record for the V and no better than a 4th place finish in conference. You just keep thinking lobo69, its what you do best. Runnin' Rebels!

  9. Awesome game. We played with heart, toughness and made plays when it counted. I hope that same attitude continues tonight. State scares me way more than BYU. They have the athletic ability to run and bang with anybody. BYU is a very well coached team who plays with mental toughness but we can we can outplay them. State is just a team that we don't match up well with but I'm still excited for a all-out war. I wish the rest of the country could have seen these 2 games last night. The only thing that ticked me off was the HORRIBLE decision by Kruger to foul Jimmer and give them 2 automatic points with 11 seconds left. We should have played tough Rebel D and even if they would have hit a 3 we still would have been up 1. Not a good strategy but still a great game. Wish I was in Vegas to storm the court with the rest of ya tonight.

  10. Good post Native57, echo all that you just typed. It all comes down to whoever executes & balls the best that given night, the better team will do that. The heart of a true athlete & warrior will get up for these kinds of moments and relishes the challenge & atmosphere of playing in the T&M. The T&M is the Madison Square Garden, The Staples Center of college basketball, if you are worth your scholarship you would have it no other way.

  11. I'd like to thank the big wigs from both Vrs. and DirecTV for their pissing match. Would love to have been able to see the game on TV tonight. Way to go guys!!!

  12. Hey SanAntonioRebel, I would have to agree that that was a terrible foul at the end, but I don't think it was what Kruger wanted. It seemed to me that when Willis was walking to the bench right after the timeout Kruger gave him a look. Maybe not, but I can't imagine Kruger wanting a foul with that much time left and us up by 4.

  13. Its funny that BYU fans overlook the 6-7 thousand people in Blue at the game. There were probably only 8 thousand UNLV fans but the extra people in Red (SDSU and UNM fans) were all cheering for the Rebs becasue they HATE BYU! To call it a "Home Court Advantage" is a joke! Is there an advantage of sleeping in your own bed and being in Vegas, yes, but not a like a true home game with 18,000 screaming and wearing red, the band playing only UNLV fight songs, and Chet getting the crowd fired up. They do everything possible to make it as neutral as possible! Whats the story last year when SDSU beat them? whats the excuse? Why cant they win a game in the Big Dance? No crappy MWC refs giving Jimmer "Fish Out of Water" Freddett ever flopping call!

  14. San Fan and I Bleed if you allow them to hit a 3 when they foul you even if you make both FT's it becomes a 1 possession game. If you foul and give the two FT when they foul and you make both and it stays a 2 possession game and if you make just 1 a 3 wont beat you. Good coaching and a smart play!

  15. im still recovering.. what a game.

  16. BYU fans are all whinny little spoiled b*tche$ who have got what they wanted all their life. That's why they cry when something doesn't go their way.

  17. RRREEEEBBBBBLLLLLEEEEESSSSSS!

    To all those naysayers out there, do you believe now?

    Whhat a game, I woke up in awe but we still have lots of work to do! San diego is HUNGRY right now. Marshall is going to be our biggest contributor I think tonight.

    Key to this game: Rebounds.

  18. Huge good win by The Rebels again.

    Can they repeat a good game against San Diego State

    Yes indeed they sure can

  19. The reason SDSU is a bad matchup is because they don't run any offensive sets. They just run around through the ball up towards the basket and just go and get it. Hard to play tough smart defense like we do when there isn't anything to defend against.

  20. No way Kruger wanted that foul. Willis made the mistake. Watched the game on TV this morning and you could see Kruger address Willis at the timeout. TV guys were way off on that. They were too busy gazing into Jimmer's eyes anyway. :)

  21. I agree, that foul was an uncharacteristic play for Tre. Maybe I read it wrong from Bleed, but if you are up by 4 and the BEST FREE THROW SHOOTING IN THE CONFERENCE steps to the line and hits 2, it is then a 1 possession game if we don't do anything and a 3 will win it. Given how cold we were on the offensive end the last 8-9 minutes of the game, I would rather depend on our defense to win it.

  22. I don't think it was that bad of play either. All we would have needed is Jimmer to make the three (like I think he would have in that clutch situation). I like that we burned a few seconds and didn't give him a chance to get a shot off. It all worked out anyway.

    How clutch was Tre'Von with free throws at the end of the game? It's really a testament to his dedication that the same guy that air-balled a free throw last year is the guy we 100% want in those situations here on out.

    And I say there were 6,000 New Mexico fans, 5,500 UNLV fans, 5,000 BYU fans, and 2,000 SDSU fans.

    The fans of those schools turning out so well really makes the home-court advantage argument an overstated one.

  23. C'mon Rebel fans, we all know the "Vegas Invitational" argument is going to happen every year, as soon as any team loses to UNLV. I actually heard the first complaints from BYU fans as I was climbing up the stairs at the T&M after the game last night. Here is BYU and its fan base in a nutshell: If BYU wins ANY sporting event, they are the best sporting team in the history of mankind. But if they LOSE, then everybody else is at fault for causing the best team in the history of mankind to lose... it's that simple. BYU fans cannot and will not admit that they have an inferior style of play and coaching when compared to UNLV. That simple. So we will hear and read this boring and overplayed argument year after year... Now Cougars, be a good loser, put your tail between your legs, and hobble back to Provo, where you are the best sporting team in the history of mankind...
    On a different note, is there any quick remedy to get my voice back for tonight? I seem to have lost my vocal cords after last night's game...

    WE ARE RUNNIN' REBELS, and WE ARE BAAAAAAACK!

  24. is the game on justin.tv?

  25. All I have to say is BYU can cry all they want about the tourney being in Vegas....but until they win a game in the NCAA's, I don't want to hear it. It's been what? 18 years since they've won a game in the NCAA tourney? Ya, BYU can just shutup.

  26. Great game by Brice!!!!!!!
    He played well against the Utes as well I think he has come out of his shell.

    RRRREEEEEEEEEEBBBBBBBEEEEEEEEEELLLLLLLLLSSSSSSSSS

    way to silence the crying cougars.

  27. I was at the game last night and will be at the game tonight but the one thing I hear alot of people complaineing about is the call to foul the best pure shooter probley in college basketball this year with 11 sec left.I think it was a great call why give up a 3 to someone who can hit that shot from any range on the court.I will give up a 2 pointer before a 3 anyday...Just like in football I will take a pass interfernce before giveing up a touchdown..

  28. i'd check justin.tv , i'd say its almost automatic someone will be showing it.... i watched Houston win early today there. GO REBELS!!!

  29. I, for one, agree with you, tysuave. As I said to the guy sitting next to me, he's the only player in the league who I wouldn't let get the ball past half-court in that situation.

  30. Epic game. So cool to send both Utah schools packin'.

    I don't think Kruger wanted the foul play on as long as Brice made one FT. I think Tre might have made a mistake there. But I also don't think it was a terrible play.

    As long as we make our free throws......which Mr. Clutch DID :)

  31. lobo69, lobo69, calling lobo69....
    Where are you????
    Please come out and play....
    HAHAHA!!!

  32. No doubt about the yning, go to the BYU articles and there are over 400 blogs about home court, refs, haws being injured etc etc etc. Pathetic