SALT LAKE CITY – The BYU men’s basketball team is making this game look easy.
The Cougars have been on a shooting tear lately and that continued at Vivint Smart Home Arena on Saturday, blowing past UNLV, 83-50.
While BYU’s top two scorers, Jake Toolson and TJ Haws, combined for just 13 points, the rest of the Cougars more than made up for it. Up and down the lineup players hit shots as Toolson and Haws combined for 11 of BYU’s 19 assists and the Rebels were never in the game.
The Cougars shot a blistering 69% (9 of 13) from the 3-point line in the first half and finished at 52% (14 of 27), the fifth time in the past six games BYU been north of the 50% mark from beyond the arc.
UNLV’s defenders could have called “shooter!” just about every time a Cougar touched the ball near the 3-point line.
“Our leading scorers were just deferring to get better shots the whole night long,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. “They even didn’t get attempts up because UNLV was overloaded so much to them. They passed the ball and our other guys made shots. I was pleased with that but most importantly for us, the guys paid attention to the defensive end. That was really crucial for us in terms of responding to the debacle we had a couple of days ago (an overtime loss to Utah).”
Dalton Nixon led BYU with a career-high 17 points on 5 of 7 from the field, including 3 of 3 from the 3-point line. Alex Barcello and Yoeli Childs had 13 points each, with Childs also contributing 14 rebounds. Connor Harding was also in double figures with 12 points. Haws had seven points and seven assists.
“Today we wanted to come in and play with force,” Nixon said. “We wanted to play on attack. Coming off a tough loss to Utah, we wanted to find ourselves again. Early on we were able to establish ourselves on the offensive end then we did a really good job controlling the game with our energy on the defensive end.”
Former University of Utah forward Donnie Tillman led UNLV (4-7) with 13 points. The Rebels shot just 35 percent from the field (20 of 57) and 29 percent from the 3-point line (7 of 24). BYU outscored UNLV 24-6 on turnovers, 16-1 on fast-break points and 42-12 in bench points.
This game was nothing like last year’s meeting at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, where the Cougars trailed by 17 at halftime, rallied to force overtime but lost when the Rebels hit a step-back 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Saturday afternoon’s contest was all BYU all the time.
Six different Cougars made 3-pointers in the first half – Harding (3), Barcello (2), Zac Seljaas, Trevin Knell, Childs and Nixon — and Haws dished out five assists. Haws and Toolson, BYU’s best 3-point shooters, did not make a triple in the first half.
Harding came off the bench and drained three straight from distance to push the Cougars to a 19-8 lead at the 11:00 mark of the first half. BYU led by as many as 24, 44-20, after Haws dished out assists on three straight trips down the floor and then connected with Barcello for a nice backdoor layup. The Cougars took a 46-25 advantage to the locker room.
Harding finished the first half with 10 points, as did Barcello, on a combined 7 of 7 from the floor and 5 of 5 beyond the arc. Childs totaled nine points and nine rebounds.
Nixon scored six points in a 14-0 run midway through the second half that pushed BYU to its largest lead, 38 points, at 71-33 with 9:09 to play.
Childs, who left the Utah game with cramps in both calves, was well-attended to on Thursday and Friday by team trainers. He sat out practice and Pope said he wasn’t sure Childs would play for a couple of minutes. But Childs – who said he drank plenty of pickle juice to combat the cramps – played 28 minutes and created the 38th double-double of his career, third all-time at BYU.
Childs said he felt good and it showed.
“Two things,” he said. “We’re playing together really well and making the simple play. The other thing was our transition defense. We put a big emphasis on that after the Utah game to build a wall and communicate. I think we did a great job with that tonight.
“It’s so fun to play with these guys because in my opinion we always have the best five guys on the court. So whoever is open I just give them the ball. It’s pretty simple for me to see somebody and give it to them.”
BYU has won its past 14 games at the home of the Utah Jazz with a big matchup against 25th-ranked Utah State at Vivint Smart Home Arena looming on Dec. 14.
The Cougars (7-4) will host another team from the Mountain West Conference – Nevada – at the Marriott Center on Tuesday.