Point Guard: B-
Ben Murdock didn't bring much to the table Saturday. He definitely didn't take much from it either, however. He had one point (1-2 from the charity stripe) and one assist, but routinely called for his teammates to run up floor as he handled UNLV's notorious pressing defense with ease. He only had one turnover, which came on a questionable five-second call, and he also contributed four rebounds.
Michael Loyd came in and gave some quality minutes. He has more physical tools to work with, as he wowed the Cougar faithful with his energetic play and ability to create fast break opportunities by breaking the press, but he continues to make questionable decisions. He'll eventually be a good player for the Cougars, and it's games like this will help him prepare to become a vital part of BYU's future. He had two assists and two turnovers. The big story, in my opinion, was that Jimmer Fredette finally got a chance to run the point. We'll touch more on this below.
Shooting Guard: B
Though it was a total group effort, it was largely Sam Burgess who prevented UNLV leading scorer Wink Adams from contributing much to this game. Adams, who came into the game averaging 16 points per game, was held to 2-of-14 shooting for nine points. Though he didn't shoot the ball exceptionally well Saturday, Burgess also had a solid seven points to go with 2-6 shooting. Fredette played significant minutes Saturday as well, but once again, we'll touch on him in the bench section.
Small Forward: A-
Thirty-two minutes, 7-10 from the field, 18 points, three rebounds, two blocks, two steals, and an assist. As good as those numbers are, they aren't even close to the best we've seen from Lee Cummard this season. But every night, he gives the Cougars exactly what they need.
He's starting to make his case for Mountain West Conference Player of the Year, and the BYU student section sure thinks he deserves it. When he came out of the game with a few minutes left, they were loudly cheering ‘M-V-P.' He has my vote.
Power Forward: A-
BYU got off to a hot start this season with a victory over Louisville and close games with North Carolina and Michigan State. Jonathan Tavernari was a big reason for that. Then, we went through a rough stretch where we won several nail biters, lost a close game to Boise State, and absolutely got demolished by UNLV in Vegas and Wake Forest in North Carolina. Tavernari was a big reason for that. We know what Cummard is going to give us. For the most part, we know what Trent Plaisted is going to give us. But for BYU to compete with the big boys (which UNLV isn't quite yet), Tavernari, the x-factor, must step up.
Though he didn't shoot lights out from the field (2-6 for six points) on Saturday, he played what was perhaps his most complete game of his young career. He had seven rebounds, which he has been doing a lot of lately, but it was his passing that put a completely different feel on this game. It seems as though his passing has become contagious for the Cougars, almost to a fault. He had four assists (and several would-be assists if it weren't for UNLV's hack-a-Trent defensive scheme). Late in the first half he had an absolutely beautiful behind-the-back pass that Cummard finished for an easy bucket. Great game for J.T., which in my opinion directly leads to a great win by the Cougars.
I know many will disagree with a relatively low B- after a big win like this. After all, the stat sheet shows Plaisted scored 22 points on 8-17 shooting. Not a bad game by any means. However, in my opinion these numbers are a bit deceptive. UNLV's tallest defender was 6 feet 8 inches, but because Plaisted often shoots the ball without looking at the basket or releasing the ball above his shoulder, he misses several shots and layups that he should make. With his athleticism and speed, he should have scored 30 points Saturday. Several of his points came off beautiful passes from teammates, but notably Fredette, who cut through the defense and found Plaisted for an easy dunk in the first half, and threw him a beautiful alley-oop lob in the second half.
You have to give Plaisted credit for finishing those, and we definitely wouldn't be in sole possession of first place in the MWC right now without him, but there are just a few little things he needs to do to become the dominant center we expected when he came to BYU. He also contributed seven rebounds, two steals and a block, and perhaps most spectacularly finished 6-8 from the charity stripe.
But Fredette was the most present surprise from our Cougar bench Saturday. He has shown flashes of brilliance, and flashes of inconsistency. We saw flashes of both Saturday, but I can see that with his experience, the trend we can expect in the future leans towards brilliance. He is the only BYU guard that can get to the rim and finish, and in my opinion he is the best passer on the team. He found holes in what we all know is a very good UNLV defense. He had nine points and four assists, but in my opinion he was a key difference maker in this game.
Late in the second half, Coach Rose finally played Burgess, Cummard and Fredette at the same time, with Fredette running the point. This put five potential scorers on the floor. In my opinion, if BYU can get those three to play well together, we could win a game or two in the NCAA tournament this year. And once Fredette gets more minutes and more consistency, I believe we will see his shooting percentage go up, his decision making improve, and he will be one of the best BYU basketball players we've ever had in Provo.
BYU got demolished by UNLV in the Thomas and Mack Center. Saturday, Coach Rose and company returned the favor in the Marriot Center. Coach had his players ready to go from the get go. They just out-planned, out-played, out-hustled, out-shot, out-everything Lon Kruger's bunch Saturday. Hopefully Coach Rose didn't play his whole deck of cards Saturday, as I fully expect these two teams to meet again in the MWC tournament championship game on the Rebels' home court.