Las Vegas • There was a traffic jam just off the famed Las Vegas Strip on Wednesday night, but it had nothing to do with cars, trucks and flashing neon lights.
The Jimmer Fredette Express, with a little help from that trusty sidecar named Jackson Emery, had just ran over the UNLV Rebels, and many of the 17,942 crestfallen fans hit the exits so fast it created a human logjam with about five minutes remaining at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Fredette, called "supposedly" the best player in the Mountain West Conference by UNLV's Tre'Von Willis before the game, scored 39 points, grabbed six rebounds and handed out five assists to carry the No. 15 Cougars to an 89-77 win over the No. 25 Rebels at the Thomas & Mack Center.
It was 15-1 BYU's first win over UNLV in Las Vegas since 2005, snapping an eight-game string, and the Cougars celebrated the moment accordingly, whooping and hollering in the final moments as the arena emptied.
"It felt just like winning in the first round of the NCAA Tournament," said Emery, who added 22 points and was 6-for-9 from three-point range. "It felt fantastic.
BYU led by as many as 21 points, 78-57, before surviving a furious rally in the closing moments to get the win in the MWC opener for both schools.
Anthony Marshall led UNLV with 26, while Willis had just 14 and was 4-for-16 from the field.
Willis and Fredette carried on a conversation throughout the game, talk that Fredette called "friendly competition." But he acknowledged Willis' "supposedly" statement drew his attention
"I did see it," Fredette said, steely-eyed and staring straight ahead. "It is something that you just take in stride. ... You don't worry about it."
He played like he cared, however, even as the crowd booed lustily every time he touched the ball.
Coach Dave Rose said the key to his first win here was taking care of the ball, weathering UNLV's runs, and a slight offensive gameplan change that got Emery, Noah Hartsock (six points, seven rebounds) and others free for open jumpers when the Rebels swarmed Fredette.
"I was happy for Jimmer. .... But the difference in the game was Jacks," Rose said, referring to Emery.
The Cougars had 13 turnovers, but most were on dead balls (such as traveling) and didn't lead to UNLV points. The Rebels had just four fastbreak points.
"In the second half, we kind of just broke them, and were able to get the score up a little bit," Fredette said.
Oddly, momentum swung after a long delay when Emery's contact lens became dislodged. Trailing 25-15 after a 13-0 UNLV run, the Cougars caught fire after the delay and took a 38-35 lead into halftime.
"I knew that we needed a lift," said Fredette, who scored 12 points in the final five minutes of the half. "This was a great way to start the conference right."
Brandon Davies added 15 points, including 12 in the first half, and 10 rebounds.
"I'm happy for our players," Rose said. "This is one they wanted to get and they came out and got it tonight."
In the second half, UNLV thwarted its own momentum with a pair of technical fouls as the Rebels dropped to 12-3 overall, 0-1 in league play. Fredette made them pay with free throws (8 for 10 from the line and from the field, going 7 for 13 from three-point range to record 39 points, which ties the second-most of his career.
R In Short • No. 15 BYU finally gets a road win at UNLV, beating the Rebels at Thomas & Mack Center for the first time since 2005
Key Moment • Jimmer Fredette goes off in the last five minutes of the first half with 12 quick points, finishes with 39.