UNLV a Thorn in BYU's Side

It's fitting that BYU (14-1) opens conference play Wednesday by facing off against the UNLV Rebels (12-2). After all, BYU and UNLV have traditionally been the two best MWC teams in recent years. BYU has won three consecutive league titles, and in two of those years UNLV was the runner up and beat the Cougars in the championship game of the conference tournament on their home court.

In Coach Rose's first four years as Cougar head coach, BYU has gone an astounding 54-10 against all conference teams other than UNLV. That's a winning percentage of more than 84 percent. However, during that span the Cougars have gone 3-7 against UNLV, a winning percentage of only 30 percent. UNLV is the only conference team that Rose has a losing record against.

Additionally, UNLV is the only MWC team to beat BYU at the Marriott Center since Rose became head coach. Last year the Rebels beat the Cougars 76-70 in Provo. UNLV is also the only conference team that Rose hasn't beaten on the road.

All this has led to some BYU fans viewing UNLV as a bigger rival in basketball than Utah currently. Rose has a 6-3 record against the Utes, who have had some struggles in recent years.

When asked if UNLV over the years has played his teams tougher than any other MWC opponents, Rose didn't come out and say that was the case. However, he did say that the games between BYU and UNLV have been pretty competitive.

"Obviously it's one of the best teams in our league, so those games are gonna be the best games going."

Coach Rose noted how this UNLV team, a team that has spent some time ranked in the top 25 this season and that might be BYU's toughest test yet, is both similar to and different from past Rebel teams.

"[Coach Kruger's] team looks pretty similar to the way they play. I mean, they really guard hard, they're aggressive defensively, and things that you run, they'll try to take you out of it and make you run counters and do other things, and that seems pretty similar.

"Offensively, it seems to be a lot different. They do a lot of dribble-drive and penetrating like they used to and have done, but it seems like they're sharing the ball a lot better. They assist on a lot of their field goals. In fact, they assist on more of their field goals percentage-wise than we do on ours, and we think we share the ball pretty good, so I think [Kruger's] got great chemistry and they're playing really well together."

Jimmer Fredette, like Coach Rose, noted that the Rebels still play the same style of defense as they traditionally have.

"They always play pressure defense on us. That's just the way they play. Defensively, they have a good coach that stresses playing defense and forcing turnovers, and if they can get some turnovers it's easy baskets for them, so that's what they want to do."

Fredette added that the team has been preparing for UNLV's pressure defense and for different situations and scenarios, such as breaking their press.

When the Cougars and Rebels square off Wednesday, it will have been 12 days since UNLV's last game when the Rebels lost 67-56 to USC on Christmas day. Whether that will affect UNLV positively or negatively isn't known, but Coach Rose said they always expect UNLV's best effort regardless of the circumstances. In fact, he indicated the Rebels could be particularly fired up to play on Wednesday.

"They've been sitting on a loss for a while, and to me that might be a factor just because [after a loss] you just want to get out and play again."

Of course, the Rebels could also come out rusty after the long layoff. There could be some rustiness among the Cougars as well, as starters Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery both missed last Saturday's game against Eastern New Mexico due to health reasons. Fredette has been battling strep throat, while Emery has been recuperating from a bruised heel.

Rose said there is always the worry that his team could be set back a little bit when players miss time. He did add that he thinks Fredette will be ready to go, but it's just an issue of how long he will be able to play.

Fredette started to feel sick the night after he scored 49 points against Arizona on Monday, Dec. 28. Perhaps he scored two (or even three) games'-worth of points against the Wildcats because he knew he would miss the following Saturday's game.

In any event, Fredette didn't eat for three days and lost about seven or eight pounds in the process. Once he was able to keep food down again, he began working to regain his weight.

"Food tastes great right now ‘cause I couldn't eat," said Fredette. "Now it tastes unbelievable, so I'm out there eating as much as I possibly can to get ready."

Fredette has been working at getting back to prime playing shape and getting back into the flow of things.

"I don't feel like it's gonna set me back a whole bunch," he said. "You know, I've been playing for a while and sometimes it happens."

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