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For the second game in a row, the BYU basketball team faced an athletic opponent from the Big West Conference. This game turned out better for the Cougars - about 100 times - than the last one, however.

BYU, with visions (nightmares?) of Thursday's 24-point loss to Utah State still fresh in its mind, returned to the basics - with emphasis on rebounding and defense - to get back on track during their home opener Saturday night in the Marriott Center against Nevada. Final score: BYU 96, Nevada 80."I thought this game would be as tough as the Utah State game," Cougar coach Roger Reid said. "They have as many athletes (as Utah State) . . . I liked our effort. We played with more intensity and went to the boards harder. We played flat and tired against Utah State. I am pleased with the way we came back and competed tonight."

BYU, now 3-2 on the year, ended up winning by 16 points, but the Cougars and Wolf Pack were tied, 63-63, with 12-and-a-half minutes remaining in the game. At that point BYU's leading scorer Russell Larson, who sat out all but three minutes in the first half with foul trouble, had yet to score.

But Larson's first two buckets of the game started a 17-4 run that put the game away. When the dust settled - after a 3-point bomb by Robbie Reid - the Cougars held an 80-67 lead with 7:24 to play.

"We made a good run to start the second half," said Nevada coach Pat Foster, whose team trailed by six at intermission. "But we never had anything going on defense. We couldn't stop them. They are a talented, experienced team. . . . They have better chemistry than we do."

Larson finished the game with 12 points - his 35th consecutive game in double figures - but it was the tandem of center Kenneth Roberts (28 points) and forward Shane Knight (a career-high 22 points) that caused Nevada the biggest defensive headaches. As a team the Cougars made 59.3 percent of their shots from the field. Knight made 8-of-9 shots from the floor, including three 3-pointers.

"Everybody on this team has to contribute for us to be successful," Knight said. "I, for one, didn't contribute at all against Utah State. Tonight everybody came through. Even if they didn't score, everyone went after the boards and played good defense."

Both BYU and Nevada had 33 rebounds for the game, but it was a vast improvement for the Cougars, who were out-rebounded by 15 against the Aggies. The Cougars were also much better defensively, especially in the second half when they limited the Wolf Pack to just 37-percent from the field.

Cougar guard Randy Reid, who sat out the Utah State game due to a broken nose, returned to action wearing a protective mask. He played 32 strong minutes scoring eight points, grabbing four rebounds and dishing out four assists while playing fine defense.

"We found out how valuable Randy Reid is to us tonight," Roger Reid said. "He gives us another dimension with his defensive ability and his quickness."

Larson, the preseason WAC Player of the Year, hardly broke a sweat in the first half. After picking up his second foul three minutes into the game he sat out until intermission. Foul trouble has been a tendency for Larson throughout his career and especially early this season.

"If (Larson) likes sitting by me on the bench so much, I might make him an assistant coach," Reid quipped. "We've got to find a way to keep him in the game. We can't play a whole half with Russell Larson not in the game."

"It was extremely frustrating," Larson said. "I don't care about individual numbers, but if I'm not in the game I can't help the team. It was my fault, though, I've got to quit fouling so much.

COUGAR NOTES: Craig Wilcox played just one minute Saturday night. The senior guard entered the game averaging more than 16 minutes playing time per game, but his knee has been bothering him, so Coach Reid has chosen to limit his playing time for a few games until he heals fully. Wilcox had knee surgery just a month before the season began . . . The Cougars won't get much rest, as they will be in action Tuesday night at home against Mississippi State. Friday and Saturday BYU will host the annual Cougar Classic with Southern Utah, South Alabama and Northwestern State the other teams in the four-team field.