LAS -- BYU's comeback effort fell one shot short when UNLV's Vince Booker hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to help the Rebels defeat BYU 73-70 in Las Vegas.
The Cougars (14-7, 4-4) fought back after being down by as many as 16 points to tie the game at 70 with 15 seconds remaining on a Jared Jensen lay-in. Jensen finished the game with 12 points and seven rebounds, continuing his consistent conference play.
"We have not found a way to win the close games on the road," said BYU head coach Steve Cleveland. "We played 30 good minutes of basketball. We really competed well in the second half and played with a lot of heart."
"It's such a heart breaker because you put all the effort into coming back into the game," added BYU forward Bart Jepsen, whose 22 key minutes helped the Cougars back into the game. For the final play of the game, UNLV point guard Marcus Banks held the ball for 10 seconds before he drove to the basket, ultimately passing the ball out to Booker who then hit the game-winning shot. "Everyone was worried about helping on Banks," Jepsen said. "I think we did the right thing. Unfortunately, he was able to find Booker in the corner."
BYU shot 61 percent from the field in the second half but missed free throws at key points hurt the Cougars. Although BYU made 15-of-20 attempts, many of those misses were front-end shots on one-and-one opportunities.
"To win on the road, you have to rebound and make free throws and those are two things we didn't do well in the last few minutes of the game," Cleveland said.
The Cougars fought back to bring the game within one, 54-53, after a Matt Montague drive and pass to Jepsen who finished the play with a dunk. UNLV (12-8, 4-4) then went on a 6-0 run before Eric Nielsen turned a three-point play to bring BYU back within three, 69-66. Nielsen has shot well in Las Vegas throughout his career, making 24-36 (67%) at the Thomas & Mack Center over the last two years of his career. Hansen then made a three-pointer to again bring the Cougars within one, 60-59 with 6:30 remaining.
After UNLV made the score 65-62, Nielsen was hit in the mouth, chipping his tooth and was briefly knocked out at the 4:13 mark. He left the game with a concussion after contributing 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting. The score was 69-66 before Hansen stole the ball and made two free throws after being fouled on the breakaway, making the score 69-68 with 1:20 remaining. Hansen finished with 21 points in 23 minutes as he spent much of the game on the bench in foul trouble. Jensen's put back made it 70-70 before Booker's three-pointer dashed the Cougars' hopes of victory.
Mark Bigelow finished with 13 points. UNLV started the game with a hot and consistent hand, making the first five shots they took to build an 11-5 lead. By the time Las Vegas had built the lead to 21-6, the Runnin' Rebels were nine for 11 while BYU had only made two of 13 shot attempts.
A three-point play by Hansen again brought the Cougars within nine, 32-23, but the Rebels then went on a run of their own to increase their lead to 16 points, 43-27. Jimmy Balderson made four consecutive free throws to bring the score to 43-31 at the 1:20 mark where it would remain for the rest of the half. The Cougars made only 11-of-31 shots (36 percent) compared to UNLV's 17-of-31 (55 percent) from the field in the first half.