Las Vegas Sun – Feb 21, 2008 – Ron Kantowski – On Jan. 15 the Rebels destroyed the Cougars 70-41 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

On Saturday the Cougars destroyed the Rebels right back, 74-48, at the Marriott Center in Provo.

If you are scoring at home, or even watching The mtn. on cable, thats a 55-point turnaround. Those are New Hampshire primary numbers. Or the 2006 Detroit Tigers. As turnarounds go, it was like executing a bat turn in downtown Gotham City after the Batmobile was retrofitted for fuel injection.

It was further confirmation that theres no place like home in college basketball.

To extend that analogy, when the Rebels clicked their ruby red high-tops and found they weren’t in Kansas, or at least the Thomas & Mack, anymore, a house fell on them. Only it wasn’t inhabited by Munchkins. It was inhabited by 6-11 guys named Plaisted and Miles and a 6-foot-6 guard named Lee Cummard, the Wicked Witch of the East, at least when it comes to tormenting the Rebels.

The severity of the beating had a lot of Rebels fans raising their eyebrows like John Belushi in one of those old Samurai Delicatessen skits with Buck Henry. But they shouldnt have been surprised.

For starters, BYU has won 44 games in a row at home. Thats the nations second-longest home winning streak behind No. 1 Memphis State (47 games).

Last year, when the Rebels were 30-7 and made nonbelievers such as Digger Phelps apologize like Andy Pettitte for underestimating them, UNLV beat BYU by eight at home. And lost by 27 on the road.

In a perfect world, when they played a third time, in the conference tournament championship game, it should have been on a neutral court. But because theres nothing perfect about the Mountain West, with the possible exception of Commissioner Craig Thompsons hair, the rubber match was played at the Thomas & Mack.

The Rebels won, 78-70.

Just as Dorothy said they would. Toto, too. (But not Digger Phelps.)

The home court advantage is so significant in college basketball that Lon Kruger believes even referees are influenced by it.

absolutely, the UNLV coach said. “If you and I were out there, and the crowd was going crazy, no question we would be influenced, too.

Thats not a knock at all. Thats human nature. There are probably two, three, four calls a game that are influenced by the crowd. In a game that is going down to the wire, two, three, four possessions is a lot.

The NCAA doesnt keep statistics on calls that can go either way that are whistled for the home team. But think about it. When was the last time you saw a home team go on an 8-0 run, and the crowd was going crazy, and there was a collision under the basket where the home team player may or may not have established position that was called a blocking foul instead of a charge?

Thats what I thought.

Kruger attributes much of the home court advantage in basketball to the proximity between players and fans.

“You get to that eight-minute mark in the second half and both teams are getting a little fatigued, the home team gets energized a little bit, he said about the effect of a raucous crowd.

Youre confined. Youre not in a big open-air stadium. Its not like baseball and football. Its continuous action. The crowd is more into it.
Mind game experts agree. The home court advantage and Tiger Woods are two of the best arguments for sports psychology,said John Murray, a noted sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, Fla.

Like Kruger, Murray said the sensory experience derived from positive and negative feedback from fans is more pronounced in basketball than in other sports. That explains why its a lot easier for a visiting team to find the open man in Fort Collins, where there are few fans in the stands, than in Provo, where a sellout crowd of more than 22,000 turned out for UNLV-BYU on Saturday.

True, you also have to factor in Colorado States inability to hit the broad side of a barn with a jump shot. But the experts say the setting of a college basketball game can be just as important as who is playing.

Im a big believer in performance, Murray said. But obviously, theres much more to performance than raw ability or the ability to move the basketball from one point to another.

In that way, Murray said, sports are no different from other audience-driven pastimes, such as playing guitar in a rock band. Put a musician in an empty concert hall, and he plays one way. Put him onstage at Live Aid and see if his amp doesnt go up to 11.

When you see all the great Olympic track records broken, its during the games, not the trials, Murray said. What does that tell you?

Well, it tells Kruger the Rebels arent interested in returning to the foot of the Wasatch Mountains to play basketball anytime soon.

Great atmosphere, very good players, he said when asked what makes BYU so tough at home. Thats a good combination.

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.