Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011 | 2:15 a.m.
UNLV vs. BYU
No. 25 UNLV Rebels (12-2) vs. No. 15 BYU Cougars (14-1)
Where: Thomas & Mack Center (cap. 18,500)
When: 7 p.m.
Coaches: Lon Kruger is 149-64 in his seven seasons at UNLV and 467-297 in 25 overall seasons; Dave Rose is 141-41 in his six seasons at BYU, which is his first head coaching job.
Series:UNLV leads 18-14.
Last time:UNLV won, 70-66, in the MWC tournament semifinals in Las Vegas on March 12, 2010.
Line: UNLV by 4
TV/Radio:CBS College Sports/ESPN Radio 1100 AM/98.9 FM
G Oscar Bellfield (6-2, 185, Jr.) 11.6 ppg, 4.3 apg, 2.6 rpg.
G Tre'Von Willis (6-4, 195, Sr.) 11.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.0 apg.
G Derrick Jasper (6-6, 215, Sr.) 9.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.0 apg.
F Chace Stanback (6-8, 210, Jr.) 12.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg.
F Brice Massamba (6-10, 240, Jr.) 4.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg.
Bench: G Anthony Marshall (6-3, 200, So.) 9.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.7 apg; F Quintrell Thomas (6-8, 245, So.) 6.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg; G Justin Hawkins (6-3, 190, So.) 5.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.4 apg; F Carlos Lopez (6-11, 215, Fr.) 4.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg; G-F Karam Mashour (6-6, 200, Fr.) 3.3 ppg.
What to watch: In three games against BYU last season, Oscar Bellfield totaled 20 assists and six turnovers. UNLV will need him to be that same type of facilitator this time around in what promises to be a high-scoring affair. With that said, how well can his sore right wrist hold up? It hasn't hampered him too much in the last two games.
G Jimmer Fredette (6-2, 195, Sr.) 24.1 ppg, 4.4 apg, 3.2 rpg.
G Kyle Collinsworth (6-6, 210, Fr.) 6.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.1 apg.
G-F Charles Abouo (6-5, 215, Jr.) 5.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg.
F Noah Hartsock (6-8, 230, Jr.) 9.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg.
F Brandon Davies (6-9, 235, So.) 10.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg.
Bench: G Jackson Emery (6-3, 190, Sr.) 11.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.6 apg; F Stephen Rogers (6-8, 195, So.) 4.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg; . F Chris Collinsworth (6-9, 235, So.) 5.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg; F Logan Magnusson (6-6, 210, Sr.) 2.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg.
What to watch: Jimmer Fredette's struggles in the last two years against BYU are no secret, but even if he figures the Rebels out this time around, he'll need some help. One guy who BYU could use a boost from is wing Kyle Collinsworth, who was the MWC's preseason Freshman of the Year. He's shooting 50 percent from the floor, but averaging only 6.7 points per game. With conference play starting, it might be time for him to get a bit more selfish.
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Las Vegas Sun reporters Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer look ahead to Wednesday's Mountain West Conference opener for the UNLV basketball team against BYU at the Thomas & Mack Center. They will give their keys to victory for UNLV and touch on the future of the rivalry with BYU leaving the league.
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Jimmer Fredette prides himself on going into a hostile road environment and silencing a crowd that, from the moment he takes the floor, has its eyes on him.
During his stellar BYU career, the senior do-it-all guard has accomplished that feat as a visitor against every Mountain West foe with the exception of one: UNLV.
Fredette is 0-5 in his career against UNLV at the Thomas & Mack Center. Barring a meeting in March's MWC tournament, his last chance to do so will come on Wednesday night, when he leads No. 15 BYU (14-1) into a whale of a conference opener against No. 25 UNLV (12-2) at 7 p.m. at the Mack.
Snapping an eight-game losing streak against the Rebels in Las Vegas would be nice for Fredette individually, but he is also looking at the bigger picture.
Last year, the Cougars won the first game of league play in Provo, knocking off UNLV, 77-73. It set a tone for both teams in their final 15 MWC games, as BYU finished second behind New Mexico at 13-3, and UNLV was two games back at 11-5.
"It's something I haven't done since I've been here and our team hasn't done, but the biggest thing is that we would have a win that a lot of teams in our conference won't get," Fredette said. "A lot of teams won't go into the Thomas & Mack Center and beat UNLV, and if we're able to do that, we might feel like we have a leg up on the competition right from the get go."
Whether BYU leaves victorious will largely hinge on how Fredette performs, and in his first two seasons in a prominent role for coach Dave Rose, the Mack has been nothing short of a house of horrors for the preseason Mountain West Player of the Year.
Fredette, whose 24.1 points per game average ranks third in the nation this season, is 1-4 against UNLV in the last two years as the ringleader for BYU, while the program hasn't beaten the Rebels in Las Vegas since 2005.
In those five games, he's averaged just 18 points per outing, shooting 32.4 percent from the floor, 33.3 percent from deep and has recorded 15 assists compared to 14 turnovers.
As always, UNLV will use a group effort against Fredette, rotating several defenders on him. The most high-profile match-up, though, will be between Fredette and Rebels senior Tre'Von Willis, who has proven to be kryptonite of sorts for the Cougars star in the last two years.
"He's a strong player, strong guard. He's pretty quick and knows how to play defense well within their scheme," Fredette said. "He gets up in you and is able to press you a little bit. He's just a solid defender, and he knows how to cut off angles well, play good defense, be long.
"He does a good job, and I'm looking forward to playing him and hopefully doing well against him this time."
A win would be huge for either team on Wednesday, but personally, Fredette has more on his plate this season than almost any other player in the conference.
After truly bursting onto the national scene during last March's NCAA tournament, Fredette made a sound decision in testing the NBA draft waters with a year of eligibility still remaining.
He didn't hire an agent, leaving the door open to return to BYU, and ultimately used the audition period to gauge what he needed to work on in the next year before truly making a push toward a pro career.
"They think that offensively I have a very good game and that I can play at that level," he said of the feedback from NBA scouts and executives. "They saw that I was a little more athletic than they even thought, so that was something that was good for me to show them.
"It's just being committed on the defensive end and being in the best shape you can possibly be in. It's a whole different grind when you get to that level."
Fredette is well on his way to fulfilling the preseason billing as the league's top draw, but for BYU to get over the hump on the road against UNLV on Wednesday, he'll need some more help around him.
The Cougars still haven't hit full stride, despite carrying an impressive 14-1 record.
Their corps of big men — headlined by junior Noah Hartsock and sophomore Brandon Davies — have been strong, but scoring on the wing is what BYU needs to get consistently outside of Fredette.
After losing resident 3-point gunner Jonathan Tavernari to graduation and last year's sensational freshman Tyler Haws on a two-year mission, returning senior guard Jackson Emery struggled for the better part of the non-conference slate. Also, preseason league Freshman of the Year Kyle Collinsworth has yet to be as productive as originally expected.
Whether that changes and the team continues to progress in conference play is a major question. Still, the Cougars are on pace to make yet another NCAA tournament appearance.
For Fredette, proving he can beat UNLV on the road is one of few questions any around the Mountain West have remaining in his storied collegiate career.
"It's fun. It really is what you play basketball for," he said. "You want to go and have these great games in these tough environments and come out with a victory. Some guys don't like playing away from home. It depends on the player, but I definitely try to play as well as I can away from home, and I like the challenge, like playing under tough circumstances."