"It'll be a tough game," Coach Steve Cleveland said. "Vegas is a tough team. We were very fortunate to win at their place. We shot the ball extremely well. They are a much better basketball team today than when we played them. They're much more cohesive, they're playing as a team."
UNLV's team unity has helped them in their last five wins—none were by more than six points. The team is winning the close games and playing with confidence—something that has eluded the Cougars.
Coach Cleveland is looking at this game as a chance to get things going before the conference tournament. "Certainly confidence has been a fragile thing when you're not having a successful season," he said. "I think it's very important in terms of getting our guys excited for the tournament and believing in themselves and believing that they can win."
If the Cougars can repeat the effort they put forth against Utah, they will stand a much better chance at winning. The coach was very pleased with the way his guys played in the 69-60 loss last Saturday.
"We certainly were in a position to win that game," Cleveland said. "It just didn't happen. This was not a situation where there was an effort issue or an execution issue. They were the better team."
After the team's practice on Wednesday, he spoke briefly about next season. He said that he is bringing in four freshman next season, two from injury (David Burgess and Trent Plaisted) and two recruits (Lee Cummard and Jackson Emery). There are also two other scholarships that will be available next year. The coaching staff is busy evaluating many different players.
In fact, for the first time in many seasons, Coach Cleveland has been doing some recruiting during the season.
"I don't normally get real involved during the season," he said. "But because the junior college season is ending as quickly as it does, that was my last opportunity. I've tried not to miss too much practice and still be out there, seeing who's out there."
When asked about what positions were the most in need of an upgrade he said, "We have needs at every position. We need depth. We certainly need to improve our ability to guard and make baskets. We need help at every position. We need to add two or three pieces to the existing players we have in the program. That's what our goal is going to be."
Other Practice Notes:
* Mission Status: "Chris Miles is going on a mission," Cleveland said. "David Burgess has indicated to me that he is not going on a mission. Trent is not going on a mission. I fully expect David and Trent to be back. But that can all change. It's happened before. Jackson Emery will go on a mission after his freshman year."
* Jared Jensen is recovering from his hyper-extended elbow and will play.
* Cleveland called the incident between Jimmy Balderson and Utah's Richard Chaney "an inappropriate action." He went on to say that it's inappropriate anytime you hit someone, but that it wasn't his place to say if any action should be taken.
* The three seniors on the team couldn't be praised enough. "They're three outstanding young men," Cleveland said. "All three of them are going to graduate. Each of them, during their careers has made contributions in their own different ways. They're three young men that will be good friends of mine forever. They're great role models for young people. They're great students. They're good people."
* Cleveland was also excited to be working with Tom Holmoe, the new Athletic Director at BYU. His previous coaching experience will be a "positive thing." Cleveland added that another positive thing about Holmoe is that "he will have the autonomy to make decisions" that will help the program. He also thinks that Holmoe will bring the leadership and chemistry needed at that level.