Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
PROVO — At the halfway point of the Mountain West Conference basketball season, BYU finds itself in a first-place tie with San Diego State in the league standings.
As the No. 8 Cougars enter the second half of the conference schedule today (2 p.m., Versus) against UNLV, they know there are plenty of tough games ahead as they contend for a MWC championship.
"Right now, I think our guys are in a good position for the second half of the season, but that can change really quick," said BYU head coach Dave Rose. "We've got to go out, play well, and defend our home court."
In the first half of the conference schedule, BYU (21-2, 7-1) played five road games and, in the second half, the Cougars will play five home games, beginning today before a sellout crowd at the Marriott Center.
"I think the guys are playing well. That was a difficult challenge, especially our road schedule the first half," Rose said. "The thing is, you really can't look at it that way because you have to break down every game, and what you have to do to prepare to win and then you have to execute. I think we've prepared well and executed well. Hopefully, we can continue to do that."
Since knocking off then-No. 4 SDSU at home on Jan. 26, BYU has played back-to-back road games, falling at New Mexico and surviving a major scare at Wyoming on Wednesday night.
"That was a tough test for us, we had to go to New Mexico and Wyoming. We wanted to get two (wins), but we only got one," said guard Jimmer Fredette. "We played five road games in the conference in the first half and went 4-1. Now we have five home games and three on the road in the second half.
"It's a little more favorable schedule for us, but you can't look at it like that. We know that every team is going to come into our building and play extremely hard. We still have some tough road games."
Today, BYU will be trying to sweep the season series from the Runnin' Rebels (17-5, 5-3) for the first time in seven years.
The Cougars earned a huge breakthrough win a month ago over UNLV, 89-77, at the Thomas & Mack Center. BYU hadn't beaten the Runnin' Rebels in Las Vegas since 2005, halting an eight-game road losing streak to UNLV.
In that game, Fredette and Jackson Emery combined for 61 points and 13 3-pointers to lead the Cougars in the MWC opener for both teams.
"BYU played great and kicked our tails," said Rebels' coach Lon Kruger.
UNLV is better than it was a month ago, Rose said. "It's a much-improved team. I hope we are, too. I think we're better. It will be an exciting game, they always are. They seem to come down to the wire here. We look forward to playing a team that plays a little bit different. They'll try to trap us and take the ball from us. That's a little bit different from the defenses we see."
The Rebels, who were led by Anthony Marshall's 26 points off the bench last month, will be looking for a little payback after that setback to BYU.
"They're going to be excited to come in and play," said Fredette. "They're going to have confidence coming off a good win against Utah (on Wednesday). It's going to be great energy here with a sold-out crowd. We know they're going to give their best effort, so we have to be ready to go."
EXPOSURE: The Cougars, and Fredette, will receive plenty of national exposure today.
ESPN College Gameday and CBS's pregame show, College Basketball Today, will feature both BYU and Fredette, who leads the country in scoring at 27.6 points per game, and is a national player of the year candidate.
ESPN College Gameday will air on ESPN today at 9 a.m. MT. College Basketball Today will air Sunday on CBS at 10:30 a.m. MT.
Cougars on the air
UNLV (17-5, 5-3 MWC) at No. 8 BYU (21-2, 7-1)
Today, 2 p.m.
TV: Versus Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
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