This grade goes to the starting point guard, Ben Murdock. Because of his poor performance, Murdock played only 20 minutes. In limited time he made several terrible passes, of which luckily only three were turnovers. He was also 0-2 from the field. His grade is not a ‘D' because there were a couple of plays where he was very physical with the UNLV guards, setting very hard picks and playing tough defense. Murdock simply didn't bring anything to the table Saturday so was left on the bench for future star Jimmer Fredette. We'll discuss his performance in the bench section.
Shooting Guard: B+
In his 29 minutes of play, Sam Burgess spent time shadowing both Wink Adams and Curtis Terry, perhaps the best backcourt in the conference. In addition to his steady defensive play, Burgess hit 3-4 shots from the field, including both of his three-pointer attempts, and made a couple of hard drives to the basket. His nine points weren't spectacular, but Burgess played within the offense and gave it his all.
Small Forward: B
Unlike the player he shared MWC Co-Player of the Year honors with, J.R. Giddens, Lee Cummard never forces the action. Because of this, Cummard shoots a very high percentage (4-6 on Saturday) and usually limits his turnovers (three on Saturday). However, when your team is playing in the conference championship in a hostile road environment, the team MVP needs to take more shots. In this game, Lee's unselfishness came as a detriment to the team. At one point in the game, BYU needed a big bucket and Cummard came off a screen and hit a deep jumper in the corner. This should have happened much more Saturday. Instead, Cummard scored two points in the second half. I believe Lee is just as talented and valuable as J.R. Giddens and Wink Adams, but in this tournament these players (Adams especially, with the help of his home crowd) put their teams on their backs. I'd like to see Lee take over a game at the end sometime, hopefully next week. He finished with 11 points, four rebounds, and four assists before fouling out in the final minutes.
Power Forward: B-
First the positives. Jonathan Tavernari has become an excellent defender. Though UNLV's offense involved multiple screens on each possession, resulting in several defensive switches, Tavernari often stayed on his man, and the 3-4-5 positions for UNLV didn't score much (with the exception of Joe Darger escaping into the corners for a few three's … I'm not sure if this was JT's man). However, once the shots went up, Tavernari failed to put a body on Corey Bailey and Rene Rougeau, and they combined for 21 rebounds. On the offensive end, Tavernari shot 4-13 from the field (2-6 from the three-point line). We've come to expect this from JT, but many of his shots were rushed and not within the offense. As always, he hit a couple of these, but Tavernari is much more effective when he focuses on defense and rebounding and shoots only within the flow of the offense. It's been said by many of us, but I believe our chances in the tourney depend on Tavernari playing up to his potential.
Trent Plaisted had nine points and nine boards, and was better than normal at the charity stripe (5-8). However, the stat that stands out is 25 minutes. In the first half, BYU was building a double-digit lead and Trent was dominating the boards. He had six rebounds in the first ten minutes of the game. However, UNLV kept running a high screen with Trent's man, forcing Trent to run out to the perimeter and switch onto UNLV point guard Curtis Terry. This is where the asterisk comes in. Though I believe Trent was playing good defense out there, he was called for a ticky-tack foul at the top of the key. A few minutes later, a UNLV player slid under the rim as he was attempting a slam dunk, and an obvious block was called as a charge. With Trent on the bench, BYU wasn't able to build on their lead, and UNLV got within four points by halftime. Since this game was on the Rebels' home court, we knew they would go on a run at the end, and a double-digit halftime lead could have proven to be the difference. A couple of times in the second half, Trent was able to score or get to the line at big moments in the game, but by this point UNLV had all of the momentum and it wasn't enough.
Two words for you: Jimmer Fredette. A couple of times this year people have mentioned how I favor Jimmer Fredette in my writing, but for you skeptics, his contribution showed up in the box score on Saturday. He was able to get to the middle of the key and finish better than any BYU player since Travis Hansen. He has a long way to go to reach Hansen's overall game, and they are completely different players (I believe Jimmer's game more closely resembles Terrell Lydday), but on Saturday Fredette was unbelievable. He played more minutes that Murdock and committed only one turnover even though UNLV's Corey Bailey, one of the premier on-ball defenders in the nation, stuck to him the entire way up the court. This kid also has tremendous court vision and made several tough passes, the majority of which resulted in UNLV fouls. Two of his best games this year came in two of the most hostile stadiums in the league, the Pit and the Thomas and Mack. Chris Collinsworth had five points and two rebounds in 17 minutes. No other bench player played a significant role.
Kudos to Coach Rose for maintaining composure in this one. I know officiating is always in the eye of the beholder, but in my opinion the officiating in this game determined the outcome. Though Coach Rose expressed his displeasure, he was always under control and his team responded to that. He also was able to recognize Fredette was outplaying Murdock, and kept his senior point guard on the bench in the biggest game of the year. I believe even though UNLV won this game, BYU came out of this tournament as the more NCAA Tournament-ready team, as the Cougars played two tough games away from their home court.
Officials should never determine the outcome of the game, but in this one they did. In talking with some Rebel fans, they mentioned the ticky-tack fouls called on Joe Darger while he guarded Trent in the second half. That had a very small outcome on the game. The officials helped determine the outcome of this game with 10 minutes to go in the first half when one of our most important players had to go to the bench while we were building our lead. They weren't bad for the rest of the game, but they succumbed to the pressure of the home crowd, and made some terrible calls on important players.
MWC Officials: F
I have no idea where else they can put this tournament, but I talked to several people that went to the game and it just isn't fair. UNLV, in addition to having the luxury of playing on their home floor, also enjoyed more than 70 percent of the fan support. Kudos to the BYU fans that made the trip down. With the program Lon Kruger is building down in Vegas, I don't think UNLV will lose this tournament until it is moved to a more neutral site. There has been talk that Vegas is building a stadium in attempts to attract an NBA team, and I think once this is built it should move there. In the forums, I welcome other ideas on where to host this tournament so fans will still go and no team has such a significant advantage (Denver was a bust).
Utah Ute players, including but not limited to Shaun Green, Johnny Bryant, Luca Drca, and Lawrence Bohra, were all at the game and cheering hard and loud for the Rebels, even doing the fight song. Cummard was named to the All-Tournament Team along with Luke Nevill, Rene Rougeau, Curtis Terry, and Tournament MVP Wink Adams. Adams played the championship game with the flu, and still led all scorers with 23 points.
NCAA Tournament. Even without the auto bid, we'll still make it to the big dance. Let's hope this loss doesn't affect our seed too much. As Lee Cummard said after the game, "We know we're a good team. We're actually a really good team."