Jimmer Fredette was outstanding as BYU kicked off its conference schedule in impressive fashion.
The high-scoring senior will now try to help the 15th-ranked Cougars avoid a letdown against a Mountain West rival they haven’t lost to in nearly five years.
BYU seeks its 11th straight win against Air Force when the teams meet Saturday at the Marriott Center.
Fredette scored a season-high 39 points - sinking 7 of 13 from 3-point range - in Wednesday night’s 89-77 win at No. 25 UNLV, snapping an eight-game skid in Las Vegas.
“This was a great win, one of the best wins we had in a long time,” Fredette said. “It’s a great way to start conference play.”
Fredette received ample help from Jackson Emery, who tied a career high with six 3-pointers to finish with 22 points. Emery also had two steals and sits one behind Danny Ainge’s 30-year-old school record of 195.
“We played on attack and guys made plays,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “I was happy for Jimmer, but the difference for us in the game was Emery.”
Emery came up big against Air Force last season, averaging 19.5 points while going 9-of-16 from beyond the arc in a pair of wins.
That offense became even more important because Fredette, the nation’s second-leading scorer at 25.1 points per game this season, was held to single digits in both meetings with the Falcons in 2009-10. He has scored less than 10 points only six times in his last 64 games.
BYU is 38-2 in its last 40 regular-season home game versus conference opponents, outscoring teams by an average of 15.3 points in the wins.
The Cougars (15-1, 1-0) posted their largest margin of victory during a 10-game win streak against the Falcons with a 91-48 rout Feb. 10 in the most recent meeting.
Air Force (10-4, 1-0) recorded a very rare conference win Wednesday, beating Utah 77-69 behind a career-high 26 points from Michael Lyons. The Falcons had lost 31 of 32 Mountain West games.
Lyons, the team leader with 13.6 points per game, bounced back after averaging 7.0 in his previous two contests.
Although the Falcons are off to their best start since finishing 26-9 in 2006-07, winning back-to-back conference games for the first time since March 5 and 8, 2008, won’t be easy.
“We’ve got to rise up to the challenge,” Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said. “I don’t know many other teams that are going to face what we’re going to face, unless you’re in the Big East. If we continue to play the way we’re capable of, we can be more and more competitive in the league, but we’ve got to do better defensively.”
Air Force is 9-1 when limiting opponents to less than 70 points, but could have a hard time keeping the Cougars and their 84.2-point average in check.
The Falcons are 5-27 against the Cougars as the visiting team.