Cougar Bounces: UNLV

Well, the BYU Cougars got through the first two rounds of the Mountain West Conference Tournament with relative ease. The problem was the MWC Tourney was only two rounds long. Once they got to the finals, BYU started playing in the UNLV Invitational. UNLV won 78-70 as they captured their first MWC Tournament win since 2000.

The Rebels overcame a horrendous start, a 14-point first half deficit and a 12-point second half deficit. They made just one of their first ten shots (the lone make was a long three-pointer as the shot clock expired) and quickly found themselves on the wrong end of a 24-10 score.

Then it seemed, the Rebels decided to change game plans. No longer would they try to push the tempo like BYU. They would now press and play a tight man-to-man—too tight, one might say. But since they were able to be extremely physical with the BYU perimeter players, they continued to do so. UNLV also started getting out on switches and limited BYU's open looks.

Slowly UNLV clawed back into the game and finally took the lead at 51-50. The teams traded baskets for several minutes before taking a four-point lead at 61-57 from which BYU could not recover.

Only one Cougar scored over the last 11 minutes: MWC Player of the Year Keena Young. He finished with a career high 34 points. During those final minutes, Young was 5-for-6 from the floor, although he did miss two free throws. The rest of the team, unfortunately, was 0-for-8 and missed two front-end 1-and-1s.

BYU finishes the season with a 25-8 record. They will find out their NCAA Tournament seed tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. MDT on CBS.

GRADES

Point: B. I was tempted to give them an "A" based on Austin Ainge's career-high 10 assists. Together the point had 11 assists and just three turnovers. I thought they did a good job of handling the pressure UNLV brought. But I settled for the "B" because they lost control of the tempo late in the first half and could not get it back. Also, when BYU needed a shot, Ainge was not there to make it.

Wing: B. Lee Cumamrd had a game and career-high 13 rebounds to go with 13 points, but other than three three-pointers by Mike Rose in the first half, this group was invisible. When BYU needed play to be made, the opportunities were there, the Cougar wings just could not convert.

Post: B+. A career-high 34 points, including 22 after halftime makes for a good grade for Young. But Trent Plaisted all but disappeared. After scoring 49 points and grabbing 19 rebounds in the first two games, Plaisted managed just nine and three. Oh and he missed four-of-five free throws. This game was all about Young, though and he proved why he was the best player in the league.

Coach: B. BYU had no counter for UNLV's press. Once UNLV started knocking down shots – which coincided with the forgoing the up-and-down game – they were able to set up their press. The press did not really lead to many Rebel fast-break points (just four), but it severely hindered BYU's half-court flow. The coaches were also unable to find a bench player who could be the team's difference maker.

Spiff's Observations

- Keena Young was simply unstoppable. In the pre-season, I said that he would be unguardable inside of 15-feet, and he was. His 34 points were the most by any Cougar since Mikeli Wesley had 32 in 2000.

- The MWC was right to bring the tournament back to Las Vegas. They were wrong to hold it in the Thomas & Mack Center – UNLV's home floor. Most big-time conferences hold their tournament at a neutral site. There is nothing neutral about the T&M. If the MWC won't provide a neutral crowd they should at least have a neutral floor. An arena, like the one at the MGM Grand, would be much better than the T&M.

- UNLV has now been eligible to play in four of the five tournaments held in Las Vegas. They have made the finals all four times winning it twice. Their record is now 10-2. This kind of home-court advantage should not be allowed to continue. It is the MWC Tournament, not the UNLV Invitational, after all.

- MWC All-Tournament team: Lee Cummard, BYU; Trent Plaisted, BYU; Keena Young, BYU; Brad Jones, Wyoming; Wink Adams, UNLV; Kevin Kruger, UNLV – MVP.

- Nine points from the bench (and all in the first half) won't get it done next week if BYU wants to be the first Cougar squad to advance to the Sweet 16 since 1981.

- Spiff's post-season NCAA prediction: BYU will get a 6-seed and will advance to the Sweet 16.


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