"It's going to be a great game," said true freshman Tyler Haws. "The game here was obviously a battle when they came here, so we're going to have to be ready to go. It's going to be an early game and so we're looking forward to it. Hopefully we'll be ready to go."
This will be Haws' first time playing UNLV on the road in the Thomas and Mack, which has some history of being a very tough place to play.
"I've never played at the Thomas and Mack," said Haws. "I've been down there for the Mountain West Conference Tournament and it was pretty cool and a really nice place. I'm looking forward to going down there and think it will be fun."
So what is Haws expecting when he steps onto the court at the Thomas and Mack? Well, nothing different than what he's already experienced on the road at other venues when BYU comes to town.
"I don't think it will be a place that's … different than any other place we've played in," Haws said. "It's no louder, and we've played in some pretty crazy environments before, so we don't expect it to be any different than what we've already experienced. It will be fun."
"The big thing for us is it's going to be a sold-out crowd for them," said Jonathan Tavernari. "We got to make sure that we keep the crowd on their heels and we are the aggressors. We have the bull's-eye on our backs, but even with that we have to make sure that we're making things happen. We can't be the ones to react but are acting first. We can't be chasing them because if we do chase them it's not even a dogfight. It's going to get complicated."
For Tavernari, it will be a return to his home city of Las Vegas one last time during the regular season in the hopes he can finally have some success against the Rebels on the road.
"It's hard to say it's the toughest place to play in conference," said Tavernari. "It's kind of hard to say that when you have The Pit and San Diego State. The [Thomas and Mack] is my favorite place to play beside the Marriott Center. I'm a Vegas guy, so I like playing down there. Usually you recognize about 50 or 100 faces, so it's a special place to play.
"We haven't been really successful playing UNLV outside of the Marriott Center either on a neutral court, conference tournament or when we play them at home. It's always tough to get things done."
The Rebels play an aggressive press defense that has caused some trouble for the Cougars in the past. They used tough defense to hold their last opponent, Wyoming, to a 50-point outing and have held their opponents to an average of 65.0 points per game. The Cougars expect nothing to change when they tip off against UNLV this weekend.
"I think they play really well [with their] pressure defense," said Jimmer Fredette. "I think that's an aspect of their team they do really well, so that will be a big key for us in how we can handle and execute our game plan [differently] than we'll do already. Over the past couple of years they've kind of taken us out of our game plan, especially at their place. That's one thing we have to avoid when we go up there this year and I think that will be key for us."
"They're really a unique team," added Tavernari. "Preparing for them is kind of how we prepare for Air Force. It's a completely different deal, and the things we do we have to kind of tweak them because they'll sometimes play four and sometimes five guards. You have to make sure you execute against them."
The Rebels feed off their defense, using it to set up their offense. Being able to keep the Rebels from playing a quick transition game will be key.
"They're really good running shooters, you know what I mean," Tavernari said. "They're really good at doing that. They run the ball a lot. You have to make sure you play defense and rebound the ball. If you take a look at the tape of them here at home [last time we played], the second half is when we got rebounds and fast breaks and got things going."
"They're a very good defensive team but they're talented offensively as well," Fredette said. "We gotta keep them out of the floor and get out on the perimeter to their shooters. We have to box them out and keep them out of the middle of the floor, box them out and not let them get any offensive rebounds. They're a tough team to play against and so we have to play tough as well."