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April 18, 2014

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

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Instant Analysis: Take your hand off the panic button; it was just one game

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Action during UNLV’s conference opener against BYU Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011.

UNLV vs. BYU

KSNV coverage of UNLV vs. BYU basketball game Jan. 5, 2011.

UNLV vs. BYU Basketball

BYU's Jimmer Fredette celebrates after dropping 39 on UNLV in the Thomas & Mack Center on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011.  BYU won the game 89-77. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

BYU POSTGAME: The Jimmer Fredette Show

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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.

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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.

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  1. True. It's a long season yet. That, and BYU can only go so far with a two-man team.

    Frustratingly, UNLV was better as a team during the first nine games of the season: intense defense, good shooting, good passing, inside-outside. Now, they are relying too much on Willis, who is not the technical player he was pre-surgery. Willis has a good head for guts and leadership, but the team needs to behave as though he's not the only go-to guy on the floor.

    What troubles me even more about the game of men's basketball is the way the NCAA has emasculated the game with the new rules, and simultaneously the NBA is poaching all the best seniors. It's sad, but I think the game itself has been irrevocably changed from just ten years ago, and there will never be another chance for a team like the 1989-1990 and 1990-1991 UNLV teams.

  2. I wish it was only one game. I don't think the Rebels have played well since the first half of the Louisville game. Their defense doesn't really scare anyone, and their offense depends almost entirely on outside shooting. I can't say I was surprised at the outcome in the BYU game.

  3. "Their defense doesn't really scare anyone, and their offense depends almost entirely on outside shooting."

    That wasn't true early in the season. They looked like a balanced Final Four team until the 2nd half at Louisville.

    But what are you gonna do? We aren't on the bench. I've been watching UNLV since they played at the Rotunda ... You just cheer and hope. (Oh, and not leave 8 minutes before the game ends, like many did last night. Quitters.)

  4. "That wasn't true early in the season. They looked like a balanced Final Four team until the 2nd half at Louisville."

    That's my point. They looked like they were going to be the best UNLV team of Kruger's tenure, early on, but what happened? I like Kruger, but this team seems to be such underachievers (and again, I'm not just looking at the BYU game), I think their conference record is going to be mediocre at best, and they'll probably need a tournament win to make it to the big dance.

    I think they'll beat TCU, but even that game can hardly be considered a gimme at this point. I just wonder what happened to the team that looked so promising early on.

  5. "I just wonder what happened to the team that looked so promising early on."

    Willis returned and the rhythm was lost. I appreciate his hard work, but he's not at full form after the injury and it disrupted what the team was doing before.