PROVO What a difference one month and a change of venue makes.
BYU, which lost to UNLV by 29 points at the Thomas & Mack Center back on Jan. 15, turned the tables Saturday night, throttling the Runnin' Rebels by 26 points 74-48 in front of 22,580 fans at the Marriott Center.
With the victory, the Cougars tightened their grip on first place in the Mountain West Conference standings and extended their home court winning streak to 44 games, tying the school record. While UNLV embarrassed the Cougars last month and defeated them in the MWC Tournament championship game last March, BYU center Trent Plaisted, who scored a game-high 22 points, said vengeance wasn't a motivator.
"It was a huge conference game from the standpoint that we were No. 1 and they were No. 2 and we wanted to keep it that way," Plaisted said. "But as far as them beating us really bad down there, they absolutely put it on us down there. The revenge factor wasn't there. We just wanted to acknowledge that it was a really important conference game and come out and play hard. And we got the win."
In the days after that humbling loss at UNLV, BYU got rid of the DVD of that setback as a symbolic gesture during practice. On Saturday, the Cougars put that game behind them in a very tangible way.
"We played so bad and we didn't execute anything down there," said Lee Cummard, who finished with 18 points. "We didn't play as a team. We got beat up down there and we took it. Tonight, it was a little bit of redemption on our home court."
BYU guard Jonathan Tavernari, who attended high school in Las Vegas, took that 70-41 loss in Sin City personally.
"For me, it's an emotional game because I'm a Vegas guy and I went to high school there," he said. "The whole week we tried to block out what happened in the last game (at UNLV). But, personally, I can't do that. I have to motivate myself somehow and that's how I did it. They pushed us around and took us out of our comfort zone last time we played them. The main focus for us was to make sure to be aggressive."
And the Cougars' aggressive mindset started with defense. BYU limited UNLV to 29 percent shooting from the field as the Rebels' three starting guards Wink Adams, Rene Rougeau and Curtis Terry combined to go 7-for-35.
"I was really pleased with our effort defensively," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "We did a good job challenging shots and staying with our assignments. Strong defense and rebounding were two keys to this game."
During one stretch of the second half, the Rebels went nearly eight minutes without a field goal, allowing the Cougars to push their lead to as many as 29 which, coincidentally, was the margin of victory for UNLV in Las Vegas.
"Their defense was very good tonight. At home they're a little more energized, and it's tough to play here," said Rebel coach Lon Kruger.
"BYU won every ball both offensively and defensively. They did what they wanted to do, and we didn't take anything away from them."
The game was competitive for the first 10 minutes, until the Cougars enjoyed an 11-0 spurt which featured, in order, a steal and layup by freshman Jimmer Fredette; a Plaisted dunk; a Sam Burgess put-back; a Tavernari 3-pointer and a Cummard layup to put BYU up 26-13.
The Rebels cut the deficit to eight at 28-20, but the Cougar defense turned up the pressure and finished the half with a 16-point advantage, 39-23. UNLV never really got close again. Late in the second half, BYU went on a 12-0 run that lifted them to a 67-38 lead. "It was a great night. We executed the game plan the best we've done all year," Cummard said. "We were focused tonight. That was the complete difference in the game. We were ready to play."As for the atmosphere, which included thousands of fans clad in white as part of a "white-out" promotion, Cummard loved it. "It was fantastic. It's why you play college basketball. I didn't want coach to take me out because it was amazing out there. It's something you'll always remember."