Willis leads UNLV over No. 12 BYU, 88-74
LAS VEGAS (AP)—UNLV couldn’t have hoped for a better start against No. 12 BYU on Saturday and it was their go-to guy, Tre’Von Willis, who led the way.
The junior guard had a career-high 33 points to lead UNLV to an 88-74 victory that pulled the Runnin’ Rebels into a first-place tie with the Cougars in the Mountain West Conference.
Willis, who finished with eight assists and five rebounds for the Rebels (19-4, 7-2), scored 21 points in the first half as UNLV jumped to leads of 15-2 and 47-18 in front of a raucous sellout crowd of 18,557 at the Thomas & Mack Arena.
“I just wanted to set a tone for our team and have a fast start,” Willis said. “I felt pretty good. It was a nice (first half), but there’s always room for improvement. It’s definitely a good win.”
The Rebels shot 32 of 61 (53 percent) from the field and 12 of 23 (52 percent) from 3-point range.
Willis, whose previous high was 30 points at TCU on Jan. 23, was 11 of 20 from the field, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range.
“We got on a little bit of a roll making shots,” said UNLV coach Lon Kruger, whose team hit its first nine three-point attempts. “We played a lot of great possessions in the first half. Defensively, we tried to get up and be disruptive as possible. The crowd was a factor. The students got into it.”
Jimmer Fredette led the Cougars (22-3, 7-2) with 21 points going 11 of 13 from the free-throw line, but just 2 of 7 from 3-point range. Fredette had seven rebounds and six assists.
“They had a great start,” Fredette said. “They put the pressure on us. They built up a huge lead and we could not catch them. They did a good job defending me. They made it tough on me. They always play physical no matter who they play.”
Matt Shaw had 13 points and five rebounds for UNLV, which has won seven of its last eight games, while Oscar Bellfield had 12 points. Chace Stanback added seven points and 13 rebounds.
Jonathan Taverni added 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field, while Jackson Emery had 10 points for BYU, which shot 24 of 63 (38 percent) from the field.
“(UNLV) got off to a great start,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “(UNLV) was not just good for the first 10 minutes, but the whole game. We couldn’t score early. We missed some open shots. We needed to execute better. We weren’t fighting hard enough.”
BYU had won 17 of its last 19 games, but lost its seventh straight at UNLV, including conference tournament championship games in 2007 and 2008.
The Rebels, who had 24 assists to the Cougars’ 12, led 56-34 at halftime. The Cougars cut it to 61-48 with 15:31 left, but got no closer.
“We’ll focus on the things we do well,” said Rose, whose team next plays Air Force at home next Saturday. “We’ll get our confidence back. It’s one game and we’ll move forward.”
The Rebels have a second straight important home conference game against No. 15 New Mexico at home on Wednesday.