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Nevada basketball at BYU: Three keys to victory and a prediction

Jake Toolson
BYU guard Jake Toolson leads the Cougars against Nevada on Tuesday night. (Marco Garcia/AP file)

The Nevada basketball team opens Mountain West play at BYU on Tuesday. Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray breaks down the game with his three keys to victory and prediction.

Nevada (7-3, 1-0 MW) at BYU (7-4, 0-0 WCC)

When: Tuesday, 6 p.m. Pacific time

Where: Marriott Center (18,987 capacity)

TV/Radio: ESPNU/94.5 FM

Online: ESPN3.com

Betting line: BYU by 7.5; total of 153.5

Three keys for Nevada to win

1. Defend the 3-point line: If you think Nevada shoots the ball well, take a look at BYU, which ranks third in the nation in made 3-pointers (115) and seventh in 3-point percentage (42 percent). The Wolf Pack ranks eighth (107) and 17th (40.5 percent), respectively. So this game should feature a long-range shooting clinic with both teams capable of burying an avalanche of threes and going on quick runs. Nevada has been stellar at defending the 3-point shot, holding opponents to a 27.7 mark from beyond the arc to BYU’s 31.1 percent 3-point defense. BYU has six players who make at least one three per game and eight qualified players who are hitting at least 35.8 percent of their threes. Since having back-to-back poor games defending the three against Davidson and Fordham – those teams made 22-of-50 threes against the Wolf Pack, 44 percent – Nevada has held opponents to 18-of-94 shooting from three in its last four outings (19.1 percent). Keeping BYU to single-digits in made threes would be huge.

2. More free throws than threes: One of the most positive things to come out of the Air Force game was the fact Nevada had more free throw attempts (32) than 3-point attempts (23). It was only the second time in 10 games that was true (Nevada also accomplished the feat against UT Arlington). Like Air Force, the Cougars are more vulnerable on defense than offense, although BYU’s defense is much better than the Falcons’ unit. The Cougars have been out-scored from the free throw line this season, so this has not been an area of strength for the team. BYU also isn’t an overly tall squad and doesn’t have much rim protection with just 16 blocks in 11 games with no player more than four blocks (and that’s 6-foot-5 guard Jake Toolson). So Nevada should have success if it attacks the lane and tries to finish at the rim. It can't just settle for threes in this one.

3. Late-game execution: Nevada hasn’t played a lot of close games, and that’s a credit to the Wolf Pack getting off to good starts and continuing to grow its lead rather than getting complacent. But I don’t see this game being a blowout. Nevada’s first three contests were decided by single digits, but its last seven have all been decided by double figures (five wins, two losses). The average margin of victory in those games has been 18.6 points, so the Wolf Pack hasn’t been asked to execute late-game situations. BYU, on the other hand, has played a lot of close games, with mixed results. The Cougars have been in five games decided by five points or less, including two that went into overtime. BYU is 2-3 in those games and lost both of the overtime contests. If this game plays out as I expect it to, it won’t be decided until the final few possessions, so Nevada must be sharp on the road in front of 10,000 to 12,000 fans on crucial possessions.

Prediction

Nevada 82, BYU 78: BYU is basically a member of the Mountain West even though it left the league for the West Coast Conference before Nevada joined the MW. The Cougars have already played MW members San Diego State (a loss), Boise State (a loss) and UNLV (a win) and still has non-league games with Nevada (on Tuesday) and Utah State (on Saturday). BYU has played a very difficult schedule, including a loss to Kansas, a win over UCLA, a win over Virginia Tech (which beat Michigan State) and an overtime loss to Utah, which also beat Nevada. The Cougars are more battle-tested against high-level teams than the Wolf Pack and have the home-court edge, which has pushed the betting line in favor of BYU by 7.5 points. Nevada has been steamrolling teams, but this game will tell us more about the Wolf Pack than the last five combined. BYU is right there with USC as the best team the Wolf Pack has played to date. That game didn’t go Nevada’s way. I’m guessing this one will as the matchup (BYU doesn’t have USC’s size) is more advantageous. Both teams should be at full strength as Yoeli Childs (suspension) has returned to action and Robby Robinson (elbow to the face at Air Force) is expected to play. Season record: 9-1



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