Runnin' Rebels Fall Short in Conference Opener, 77-73

Richard MarshSenior Analyst IJanuary 7, 2010

LAS VEGAS - NOVEMBER 28:  Head coach Lon Kruger of the UNLV Rebels signals to his players as they take on the Louisville Cardinals at the Thomas & Mack Center November 28, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Rebels defeated the Cardinals 76-71.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

It's not easy for a visiting team to win in Provo, Utah. Going into last night's game with the UNLV Runnin' Rebels, the BYU Cougars were 36-1 in conference play at the Marriott Center. Their only loss at home last year was to the Rebels who came from 13 down at halftime to score the stunning upset. Of course that was last year and without a player with the caliber of a Wink Adams, Lon Kruger knew he would have his hands full last night.

This is obviously a different team without Wink. Players in the game would often find themselves stopped and watching Wink make his next move. With the tandem of Tre'Von Willis and Oscar Bellfield, the Rebels almost pulled it off.

Halfway through the second half the Rebels led by eight with the ball, but an unforced turnover by Bellfield helped the Cougars not only get back in the game, but to their credit, they held the Rebels scoreless from the field for the remaining five minutes of the game.

Willis led all scorers with 24 points along with six rebounds and four assists. He was the only Rebel to reach double figures in scoring. Bellfield had nine assists and Chase Stanback led the team with eight rebounds.

Jonathan Tavernari who seems like he's been on this team for the past seven or eight years did his usual damage against the Rebels. He and Noah Hartsock led BYU in scoring with 17 each with many of their points coming in the last 10 minutes of the game.

This was the first game for both teams in Mountain West Conference play. From here the Rebels meet nationally ranked New Mexico in "The Pit" on Saturday afternoon before returning home to face their nemesis from last year, San Diego State who beat the Rebels three times including twice at the Thomas and Mack. They have also beat New Mexico at home in their conference opener.

The Rebels could easily find themselves 0-3 in Conference play and looking up in the standings for the rest of the season if they don't get a win in the next two games.

This team needs a "closer" like Wink Adams who can dominate a game and close it out at the end. Right now Tre'Von Willis could be that guy but he needs to take his game up a couple of notches to give the Rebels a chance in this very good and tough Mountain West Conference.

On a personal side note, for me, it doesn't get any better in sports than it will be this Saturday. First at 1:00 PST the Rebels will be on TV against New Mexico. At 1:30 PM the New York Jets will try to prove that last week's win over Cincinnati was not a fluke and they deserve to be in the playoffs. Finally at 5:00 PM my Philadelphia Eagles will show the world just how difficult it is in the NFL to beat the same team three times in one season as the battle the Dallas Cowboys for their playoff lives.

For what it's worth, my picks:

UNLV 68, New Mexico 64
NY Jets 17, Cincinnati Bengals 13
Philadelphia Eagles 31, Dallas Cowboys 27