UNLV Stuns 12th-Ranked BYU, 88-74

Richard MarshSenior Analyst IFebruary 7, 2010

LAS VEGAS - FEBRUARY 06:  Tre'Von Willis #33 of the UNLV Rebels catches a pass in front of Jimmer Fredette; #32 of the Brigham Young University Cougars during their game at the Thomas & Mack Center February 6, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. UNLV won 88-74.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

There is nothing more electric or as exciting as a sold-out crowd of 18,557 screaming UNLV Runnin' Rebel fans at the Thomas and Mack Center on the campus of UNLV.

In what perhaps was the most perfect first half of college basketball I have ever seen, the Rebels jumped all over the 12th-ranked BYU Cougars by completing their first nine three-points attempts and opened up a 29-point lead.

Led by my top player of the year, Tre'Von Willis had 21 of his career-high 33 points in the first half. The Rebels shot lights out, thrilling the capacity crowd. The atmosphere resembled an NCAA Final Four game as the fans were rarely in their seats. I know I wasn't.

Oscar Bellfield put a defensive blanket on BYU's leading scorer Jimmer Fredette, as he struggled from the floor and had to fight to get every shot attempt.

For the second-straight game, Matt Shaw came off the bench and added a spark by hitting his first three three-point attempts. Shaw finished with 13 points, five rebounds, and three assists in 15 minutes of play. Chase Stanback led all players with 14 rebounds.

BYU cut the lead to 13 in the second half, but it was as close as they got as UNLV applied the defensive pressure throughout the game. Jason Tavernari, who I swear has been on the BYU squad for the last 10 years, led the Cougars on their attempted comeback. He finished the game with 16 points.

This was the seventh-straight win for the Rebels against BYU at the Thomas and Mack Center, including two Mountain West Tournament Final games. With both teams now tied along with New Mexico at the top of conference with 7-2 records, the possibility of another meeting in this year's Mountain West Tournament looms on the horizon.

It doesn't get any easier for the Rebels from here. On Wednesday, 15th-ranked New Mexico comes to Las Vegas looking for revenge of its only conference home loss this year at the hands of UNLV. In that game, Kendall Wallace hit seven three-point plays in the 12-point road victory for the Rebels at the "Pit."

From here, the Rebels have three of their next five games on the road, including stops in San Diego, Utah, and at the Air Force Academy. The Rebels have been road warriors this year, winning seven out of eight on their opponents' floor.

The students rushed the floor at game's end, and I would have loved to have joined them, but I was 12 rows from the top of the second tier, and by the time I got to the floor, the building would have surely been empty.

With one month left and seven games remaining on the schedule, the Rebels improved to 19-4 and will probably find their way back into the top 25 this week. Barring a major collapse, it looks like this will be Coach Lon Kruger's third trip to the NCAA Tournament in his six years at UNLV. Right now a three or four seed looks pretty good to me.

Go Rebels!