PROVO Pressure abounds as first-place BYU hosts second-place UNLV in a Mountain West Conference showdown tonight at 7.
The Cougars (19-5, 8-1) are protecting not only their spot at the top of the conference standings but also a seven-game winning streak and a 43-game home court winning streak. The Runnin' Rebels (19-5, 8-2) are facing a hostile crowd at the Marriott Center, where no opponent has won since 2005.
If UNLV wins, it would climb back into first place. If the Cougars win, they would take control of the conference race.
Then there's the other kind of pressure defensive pressure that helped UNLV destroy BYU by 29 points last month at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Cougars are counting on a much different outcome in Provo.
"A lot of the deal with UNLV is, their pressure at home is fantastic. They really feed off the energy of their home crowd. Once they got rolling, they couldn't be stopped," said Cougar center Trent Plaisted. "One thing going in our favor this time is our home court advantage. (UNLV's) trademark is their pressure and they're really good at it, no question. We hope to be able to handle it better in this environment (at home)."
"I think we'll be a lot more prepared mentally and that will be the difference with handling their pressure," said Cougar guard Lee Cummard. "We came into that game lax and loose. I think that was the reason for it. Give (UNLV) some credit. They get up and pressure and play good defense. But if we're mentally in it and focused, we'll be fine. They took the game a lot more seriously than we did that night."
In that humiliating defeat, the Cougars shot only 33 percent from the field and surrendered 19 turnovers, as the Rebels recorded nine steals. UNLV wrapped up the victory early, taking a 39-21 lead at halftime.
BYU coach Dave Rose said the Rebels were simply able to disrupt his team's offense.
"(UNLV) did a great job of speeding us up offensively. We got a lot of open shots, but they weren't necessarily good shots. That's a real big focus, to be a little more patient and take shots within the confines of our offense instead of what's available. That's part of (UNLV's) style. That's what they do.
"I think we're better now than we were four weeks ago when we played them. We're better at handling pressure," Rose continued. "You know they're going to get out and guard us. They don't play a true center so they're playing five guys who can really extend and get out on the perimeter so we'll have to be ready for that. We need to take advantage of the opportunities created by that pressure."
Cummard said his team isn't necessarily looking for revenge, but a chance to redeem itself.
"It was kind of a slap in the face down there and we just took it," Cummard said. "I don't think it has anything to do with vengeance as far as getting back at them. It's more of proving ourselves. We're a lot better team than what we showed that night. A lot better team. It's more of saving face for ourselves because we're so much more talented than we played that night. We're so much better as a team than we played that night."
The Cougars haven't lost since falling at UNLV and Plaisted said it has proven to be a turning point in their season."Anytime you lose, especially in that fashion, it kind of galvanizes your team a little bit," he said. "We came together as a group more and we were able to gut out a win against Utah and then we were able to gut out a win against San Diego State. From there, it started snowballing a little bit. UNLV is playing really well and we're playing really well. It's going to be a good game."