LAS VEGAS At about the time BYU was wrapping up a tougher-than-expected victory over TCU Saturday night in Texas, the Utah basketball team was about to land at Salt Lake City International Airport.
That's when they found out they won't have to face UNLV for a second time in a week, at the upcoming Mountain West Conference Tournament.
The Utes say they'll play anybody, but like everybody else, they would rather play New Mexico in the first round of the tourney than UNLV on its home court.
That's the Utes' fate after losing to the Rebels 70-63 Saturday afternoon, about an hour after Air Force outlasted San Diego State at home 46-43 to improve to 8-8 and grab the No. 5 seed in the tournament.
If BYU had lost, the Utes would have fallen to the No. 7 seed and faced a rematch with the Rebels on Thursday night at the Thomas & Mack Center. But now they'll get the Lobos, who defeated them in overtime in Albuquerque and by one point in Salt Lake.
Despite going in as the No. 6 seed, the Utes are still feeling confident."Like the coaches said, this is the start of a new season," said Carlon Brown. "We're real confident. We can play with everybody in this league. We feel we can win in this building."
COACH LIKES NEW LINEUP: For the third straight game, the Utes started Kim Tillie inside and Luka Drca at point guard and had former starters Luke Nevill and Tyler Kepkay come off the bench.
Even though the Utes got off to a horrid start, missing 11 of their first 12 shots and falling behind 13-4 and 16-6, coach Jim Boylen was happy with the new starting lineup. Boylen said his team missed six layups in the first 10 minutes or it could have been a different game.
Boylen likes the defensive presence at the start of the game and the fact that Nevill can save a foul or two. He said the new lineup "has been good to us."
Nevill said he likes it because the extra rest gives him more energy for later in the game. He has averaged 21 points on 58.1 percent shooting over the past three games.
"I haven't been as tired and I've kept out of foul trouble, so I've been able to play a few more minutes," Nevill said.Drca played a career-high 36 minutes and finished with seven points, six rebounds and five assists, while Kepkay was scoreless in a season-low eight minutes.
UTE NOTES: For the 18th time in 29 games, the Utes' opponent shot more free throws as the Rebels went 15-for-18 and Utah was 8-of-10. For the 23rd game this year, the Utes made as many or more field goals than their opponent with 26 to 23 for the Rebels. ... The Utes had only 10 turnovers, compared to 13 for UNLV. Curtis Terry, who led the Rebels with 22 points and 10 rebounds, had six turnovers. ... The Utes and Rebels are now 19-19 all time.
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