It was college basketball’s version of Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton, with UNLV playing the role of the Pac Man.
Like Pacquiao’s devastating second-round knockout of Hatton in May, the Rebels dropped Brigham Young with an early KO Saturday. UNLV used a hot-shooting start to build a 47-18 lead and went on to an 88-74 walkover at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“They hit us early and hard,” said BYU’s Jonathan Tavernari, a former Bishop Gorman forward who scored 16 points. “We thought we could come back after being down so much early. But give them credit. They were better.”
Indeed. And now the 12th-ranked Cougars share the Mountain West Conference lead with UNLV and New Mexico at 7-2 after the Rebels shot 65 percent from the field in the first half and 69 percent on 3-pointers (9 of 13).
“They really stretched us defensively,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “They made some shots early, and, as we struggled to contain them, they started driving past us. And when we tried to take that away, they knocked down their outside shots.”
The Rebels also made life tough for Jimmer Fredette, the Mountain West scoring leader at 21.5 points per game. Fredette scored 21 and had seven rebounds and six assists. But it was a hard-earned 21, and he was clearly second best to UNLV’s Tre’Von Willis, who entered as the conference’s No. 2 scorer at 17.2 points and scored a career-high 33.
UNLV worked hard to deny Fredette the ball and contest virtually every shot he took.
“Yeah, they did a good job,” he said. “They were physical with me, but a lot of teams try to play me physical.”
As for Willis getting the better of him, Fredette said: “I never looked at it as me vs. Tre’Von. He’s a very talented player. I was just focused on trying to help our team get back in the game.”
Fredette shot 4-for-15 from the floor and 2-for-7 on 3-pointers. A 90 percent free-throw shooter, he also missed twice from the line and dribbled the ball off his leg in the first half.
It was that kind of a day for the Cougars, who dropped their fifth straight regular-season game to UNLV at the Thomas & Mack and seventh in a row including the Mountain West tournament. BYU last beat the Rebels on their home court on Feb. 5, 2005, 82-72.
“UNLV’s playing really well right now,” Fredette said. “They run good stuff, and they defended well. We just have to put this behind us and regroup.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913.