Much of the talk surrounding BYU this season has been about senior guard Jimmer Fredette and rightfully so. Fredette is a surefire First Team All-American and a conservative bet to win his share of National Player of the Year awards. But for those who believed that his scoring is the sole reason why Dave Rose's team ranks among the nation's best the Cougars issued a statement at San Diego State that they're more than just one man. Fredette scored 25 points, making just eight of 23 shots from the field, but also dished out nine assists in BYU's 80-67 win over the Aztecs at Viejas Arena. Charles Abouo led three other starters in double figures with 18 points, and the combination of their win (which essentially puts them two games up on the Aztecs) and losses by Duke and Texas have opened the door to talk of a one seed in the NCAA Tournament. But the most important reward is the driver's seat in the Mountain West, something few expected BYU to leave San Diego with.
"We talked about it all year long; that this is a very good team, with a couple special players," said Coach Rose. "Jimmer is a good offensive player that I think I've coached and Jackson [Emery] is as good of a competitive player and defensive player; the job he did again tonight on their perimeter guys, a big reason we won."
Kawhi Leonard led four Aztecs in double figures with 17 points in addition to a game-high 13 rebounds but San Diego State failed to take full advantage of 15 offensive rebounds, getting outscored by BYU 9-7 in second-chance points. BYU was only a minus-6 (39-33) in rebounding margin on the afternoon, and despite the number of possessions (67) being a little closer to what San Diego State averages on the season (64) the missed opportunities when it came to scoring off of the offensive rebounds proved costly for the Aztecs. And it certainly didn't help matters that the Cougars were on fire from deep, knocking down 14 of 24 three-pointers on the afternoon. Few teams who shoot that well lose much less one ranked in the Top 10 in America.
"Every time we kind of crept up to them, they would make a play, or two, to put the spread backup again," remarked SDSU head coach Steve Fisher about not being able to get over the hump. "And we would fight like crazy to get a couple baskets and get a deflection and a steal and one roll off and they would go down and score a basket.
"Whether they shoot 14-for-24 or not, they are going to be a very, very difficult out for anyone in the NCAA Tournament. I don't care who it is. They are that good." (quotes courtesy of San Diego State Athletics)
The question now is just how beneficial today's results, and not just of their own doing, stand to be for BYU should they win out (including the Mountain West Tournament). The Cougars are now 9-1 against the RPI Top 50 and 10-1 in true road games. The strength of schedule may take a slight hit thanks in large part to their regular season finale against Wyoming but from a computer standpoint BYU compares favorably to some of the other teams vying for a top seed that hail from more publicized leagues. But as last year's tournament showed the most important thing is the draw not the seed, and if BYU can remain west for the second weekend (they'd have to be a near lock to start out in Denver at this rate) all the better. Coach Rose's team had the chance to make a statement in front of a national audience on Saturday and much to their credit they took full advantage of the opportunity.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Colorado and Virginia Tech pick up huge home victories over Top 5 opponents.
Few people who watched Texas at Colorado could be blamed for turning the channel at about the point where Gary Johnson completed a three-point play with 4:39 left in the first half. Up 43-21 the Longhorns looked to be a safe bet to close things out in Boulder, and that remained the case at the half despite their lead being cut to 15. But Tad Boyle's team had different ideas and the end result is a much-needed 91-89 victory that likely revived their at-large hopes. Alec Burks scored 24 of his game-high 33 points in the second half and Levi Knutson knocked down some crucial shots in adding 21 for the Buffaloes, who shot 58% in the final 20 minutes. Add in Texas shooting 5-for-24 from two and an unconscionable comeback became a reality.
Also picking up an important home win was Virginia Tech, who didn't need a wild comeback to take care of top-ranked Duke. While Malcolm Delaney didn't have his best day from the field (4-for-15, 11 points and seven rebounds) the Hokies were able to defend Cassell thanks to all five starters reaching double figures led by Jeff Allen's 18 (and 15 rebounds). Kyle Singler scored 22 to lead Duke and Nolan Smith added 18 but with no other Blue Devils scoring more than nine (Mason Plumlee) the visitors found themselves lacking offense, a strange occurrence given their offensive firepower. In the final 27 seconds of the game and down by just three Duke failed to get off a single shot attempt. Whether the credit goes to the Virginia Tech defense (Duke shot 39.7% for the game) or Duke's late-game execution is up for debate, but there's no dispute over how important the win is for a team that's lost twice to Virginia. When opportunities come to pass for teams like Colorado andV VirginiaTech how they handle them determines their fate.
2. UCLA whips Arizona in the final game before renovations at Pauley, forging a tie atop the Pac-10.
In the final game at Pauley Pavilion before major renovations there was business to be attended to. Arizona had a chance to clinch at least a share of the Pac-10 regular season title with a win over UCLA, who was looking to pull into a tie for the top spot. And by early in the second half it became apparent that the Wildcats had no chance of leaving Los Angeles with a win, eventually falling 71-49 in UCLA's finest performance of the season. Reeves Nelson, who posted a line of 24 points and 10 rebounds in the first meeting, scored 27 points and grabbed 16 rebounds while also being charged with guarding Derrick Williams, who accounted for 15 points and seven rebounds.
Overall UCLA's defense was outstanding as Arizona failed to reach 50 points for just the fourth time in the last 15 years. Josh Smith added 17 points in 20 minutes off the bench, and as his role has changed with Ben Howland using Anthony Stover to start (in part to keep Smith out of early foul trouble), the freshman has improved in recent weeks. Add in 15 from Tyler Honeycutt and the Bruins had more than enough to beat Arizona. And in a fitting occurrence John Wooden's great-grandson Tyler Trapani scored in the final game. While the Pac-10 Tournament will most certainly be entertaining there's still the regular season to be decided.
3. Missouri State wins their first-ever Missouri Valley regular season title.
Before the season began many Wichita State received 33 of a possible 40 first-place votes, with second-place Missouri State getting just one. But that meant nothing to Cuonzo Martin's Bears, who pulled ahead for good on an Adam Leonard three-pointer with 48.2 seconds remaining to beat the Shockers 69-64 at JQH Arena. The win clinched Missouri State's first ever Missouri Valley regular season title and four players reached double figures led by Jermaine Mallett's 18. In addition to Leonard and Mallett there's Kyle Weems, a preseason All-MVC selection who will more than likely receive the end of season honor next weekend with an average of 16.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Coach Martin relies heavily on his experienced starting five and they've rewarded the program handsomely this season. And given the way in which they defend Missouri State could be a tough matchup for someone should they get to the NCAA Tournament.
4. Syracuse completes a week of payback, beating Georgetown at the Verizon Center.
On Monday it was Villanova fell to Syracuse in the return match, and on Saturday rival Georgetown mounted a second half charge but ultimately fell short to the Orange. Scoop Jardine scored 17 points and also racked up seven assists with just one turnover to lead the way, and defensively Syracuse limited the Hoyas to just 36% shooting on the afternoon. Austin Freeman scored 16 and Jason Clark 11 but it became obvious as the Hoyas were making their comeback just where they miss the injured Chris Wright. Without their senior point guard Georgetown lacks a guy who can attack off the dribble late in the shot clock, something they're going to need in March. But Saturday was about Syracuse, who has now won four straight going into their regular season finale next week against DePaul. Rick Jackson's been there all season long and Kris Joseph has played well for much of the season, but when Jardine and Brandon Triche play well the Orange are a tough team to beat.
5. Yale knocks off Harvard, putting Princeton back into the driver's seat in the Ivy League.
The importance of every league game tends to be underestimated in many leagues but the Ivy has no such issue due to the lack of a conference tournament. Harvard falling at Yale 70-69 not only puts Princeton back into the driver's seat with one more full weekend of play left (Princeton visits Penn the following Tuesday) but it also makes the Tigers' game at Harvard on Saturday night the game that likely determines the automatic bid provided both take care of business on Friday night. Jeremiah Kreisberg's layup with 41 seconds remaining proved to be the difference in New Haven as Yale ended a four-game losing streak in the process. Austin Morgan led four Bulldogs in double figures with 16 points and center Greg Magnano added 13 rebounds in addition to his 11 points, and Harvard's Keith Wright struggled from the field. Yale took great care of the ball, turning it over just three times, and as a result Harvard finds themselves looking up at this late point in the season.
Top Five Games
1. Colorado 91, (5) Texas 89
2. Ohio 88, Kent State 87
3. Texas State 82, Texas-San Antonio 80 You hate to see a game end at the foul line but that's exactly what happened in San Marcos as a pair of Ryan White throws with three tenths of a second remaining proved to be the difference. White scored a game-high 25 and Melvin Johnson III, who split a pair of free throws with six seconds remaining to tie the game, led UTSA with 21.
4. Iowa State 83, Nebraska 82 (OT) Despite a game-high 27 points from Lance Jeter the Cornhuskers fell in overtime at Iowa State. Diante Garrett led the Cyclones with 17 points as they snapped their 10-game losing streak with the win. A Jeter three with 3.4 seconds left in regulation sent the game into OT but he couldn't call on the same magic late in the extra session, airmailing another game-tying attempt.
5. James Madison 72, VCU 69 Matt Brady's club may have dealt the Rams a crushing blow in regards to their at-large chances, handing VCU their third conference home loss in less than a month. Devon Moore led the victors with 18 points while VCU's Jamie Skeen led all scorers with 20.
Five Notable Performances
1. G Andrew Warren (Bradley) 33 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and four steals in the Braves' 90-64 win over Drake.
2. F Reeves Nelson (UCLA) 27 points, 16 rebounds and three assists in the Bruins' 71-49 win over Arizona.
3. G Jake Thomas (South Dakota) 40 points (11-18 FG, 10-16 3PT), eight rebounds, four steals and two assists in the Coyotes' 105-74 win over Chicago State.
4. F/C Josh Owens (Stanford) 31 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and two assists in the Cardinal's 88-71 win at Oregon.
5. G Dwight Hardy (St. John's) 34 points (9-16 FG) in the Red Storm's 81-68 win at Villanova.