Two days after UNLV's Tre'Von Willis referred to Jimmer Fredette as "supposedly" the Mountain West's best player, the BYU star made his longtime rival regret not choosing his words more carefully.
Fredette unleashed a 39-point onslaught on Wednesday night, propelling BYU to an impressive 89-77 win that snapped an eight-game road losing streak against UNLV in Las Vegas. It was clear Fredette took particular pleasure in the big scoring night coming against the Rebels from the way he gestured at Willis after made buckets and from what he said after the game about the UNLV senior's pregame comment.
"I did see it," Fredette told reporters. "It's something you take in stride. I definitely saw it and was reminded of it."
In fairness to Willis, he had reason to be confident entering Wednesday's highly anticipated Mountain West opener. Not only had Fredette never beaten UNLV in Las Vegas in five previous matchups, the senior had also struggled against Willis more than any other defender, still averaging 18 points in his five most recent meetings with the Rebels but shooting just 32.4 percent from the floor.
Asked Monday whether he takes particularly pride in slowing down Fredette, Willis could barely hide his smile.
"They've got a preseason All-American and supposedly the best player in the conference on the other team, so that's gonna be nothing but fun," Willis told the Las Vegas Sun. "I try to make him earn everything he gets. Like I said, he's got all of those accolades, but he's gotta come in and prove it."
With those words echoing in his ears, Fredette overcame an 0-for-3 start from the field and systematically destroyed UNLV's vaunted defense.
Fredette scored 12 points in the final five minutes of the first half to turn an early 25-15 deficit into a 38-35 halftime lead. Then the nation's third-leading scorer helped put the game away in the second half, boosting BYU's lead to as many as 21 and sending fans streaming for the exits with five minutes left to play.
Playing all 40 minutes against the Rebels, Fredette hit 12 of 25 shots, sank 7 of 13 threes and also chipped in six rebounds and five assists. Often-overlooked backcourt mate Jackson Emery also had a huge night, scoring an efficient 22 points and sinking six three-pointers of his own.
UNLV will get a second shot at BYU this season on Feb. 5 in Provo. Fredette is typically at his best at home, so this time the Rebels might want to hold their tongue prior to the game.