BYU was able to steadily wear down the Aztecs, who ended up playing at a pace a little faster than what they'd been accustomed to in winning their first 20 games. "It was a physical game and we stayed with them for about 35 minutes, but we just couldn't hold on for 40," said San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher. After a James Rahon three pointer closed the deficit to 56-52 with 7:26 remaining the Aztecs went more than three minutes without a field goal, with a Leonard basket cutting BYU's lead to 60-54 with 3:54 left on the clock. But there would be one more drought, with another Rahon hoop with 24 seconds left being the next field goal for the visitors and by then the game was out of reach. Leonard may have shot just 40% from the field but his teammates made just 33.3% of their shots, and guards D.J. Gay and Chase Tapley struggled on the perimeter.
Those two combined to shoot 2-for-10 from three and 3-for-14 overall (all made field goals credited to Tapley), and when combined with Billy White scoring just six points it's tough for SDSU to win games of this caliber on the road (in fact, it would be tough for any team to win). San Diego State outscored BYU 13-2 in second chance points thanks to a staggering 18 offensive rebounds but they shot just 31% in the second half, getting outscored 41-27 as a result. But for all the stats that can be analyzed the game eventually came down to one fact: BYU has one of the premier shot-makers in the sport, and for those who felt the need to question Fredette's merits as a national Player of the Year candidate Wednesday night provided quite the rebuttal.
"Jimmer has a relentless mindset toward scoring the ball which you might think everyone has, but his is unique," remarked BYU head coach Dave Rose after the game. "But he's also playing with guys that want to get the best shot possible on every possession and I think you can see that when Jimmer's got a hot hand and is rolling pretty good that his teammates really look for him."
Wednesday's game was a matchup of two very good basketball teams, with the Cougars doing what they were supposed to at home (now 11-1 vs. SDSU in Mountain West meetings in Provo). To project doom for the Aztecs on the basis of one loss would be silly as they're not going anywhere in regards to the Mountain West race. Leonard will recover from the flu, players such as Gay and White will play better and the Aztecs will get back to better managing the flow of a game. They'll be fine, as will BYU, and both will win more than their share of games between now and the rematch on February 26th in San Diego. Look for the regular season title to be on the line on that day. (quotes courtesy of BYU Athletics)
Other Notable Happenings
1. Harrison Barnes comes up big late in helping Carolina beat Miami.
There was concern when Miami got off to a hot start, leading by as many as 14 (18-4) at one point in the first half. But Roy Williams' team slowly worked their way back into the contest, eventually tying the score at 39 on a Harrison Barnes three late in the first half. The game would continue to go back and forth in the second half until the freshman phenom scored the final five points on the game to give the Heels a 74-71 victory. Barnes knocked down a jumper with 1:13 remaining to tie the score at 71, the following that up with a three-pointer with 6.6 seconds remaining to provide the winning margin. Barnes didn't shoot well from the field, making four of eleven shots from the field, but he made the plays late and for one night became the go-to guy in such situations. Carolina needs a guy like that to step up; can Barnes ultimately be that guy? The preseason praise may have been a little much, but with his talents Barnes can get to that point as the season rolls on. Wednesday night could be an encouraging step in that direction.
2. Texas keeps on rolling on the road, beating Oklahoma State in Stillwater.
Rick Barnes' club has encountered emotional environments in consecutive road games yet they hardly flinched in either. Down by a large margin early on Saturday the Longhorns could have resolved to take their beating at the hands of Kansas but they refused to do so, ultimately beating the Jayhawks to remain atop the Big 12. And with Oklahoma State commemorating the 10th anniversary of the tragic plane crash that killed 10 members of the basketball program it would have been easy for the Longhorns to find themselves in trouble in Stillwater. But they defended extremely well, limiting the Cowboys to 32.1% shooting for the game and just 19 points in the second half of a 61-46 victory. Tristan Thompson led three Longhorns in double figures with 14, and the relative unselfishness of this group compared to last year's in a major reason as to why Texas is a serious Final Four contender. Jordan Hamilton added a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds while Dogus Balbay had a very good floor game (10 points, five rebounds and four assists with no turnovers). After these last two games it's safe to say that Coach Barnes has an entirely different team on his hands, one that he'll likely enjoy coaching well into March.
3. Louisville comes from behind to beat West Virginia.
Some credit needs to be given to Bob Huggins' Mountaineers, who led by as many as 11 in the first half when some expected this shorthanded bunch to get their doors blown off. But they ultimately ran out of gas, scoring just 17 points in the second half while Louisville made its charge, winning the game on a wild Peyton Siva shot with 4.5 seconds remaining by the final score of 55-54. Siva (14 points), Preston Knowles (10) and Chris Smith (15) all reached double figures for the Cardinals, who are now 5-2 in Big East play going into Saturday's game at Connecticut. And while some may say that teams should look to avoid the double-bye given teams' lack of success in the Big East Tournament when afforded that luxury an extra day of rest come March isn't exactly a bad deal. As for the Mountaineers, who played just seven players on Wednesday they'll need to trust more of their offense to Joe Mazzulla, who scored 18 points in the first half. Louisville did a much better job on him in the second half, but his ability to make things happen offensively will be needed given the loss of one more weapon in Casey Mitchell. While WVU's season is at an interesting point, one where guys need to decide if they're for the team or for themselves, Louisville has a group more focused on the common goal.
Top Three Games
1. North Carolina 74, Miami (FL) 71
2. Illinois State 79, Bradley 78 (OT) A pair of Austin Hill free throws with three seconds remaining gave the Redbirds their second conference win of the season while dropping the Braves to 0-10 in MVC play. Jackie Carmichael led Illinois State win 24 points and 17 rebounds while Andrew Warren led Bradley with 25.
3. McNeese State 66, Nicholls State 65 A Dontae Cannon jumper with three seconds remaining gave the Cowboys a one-point road victory to move to 4-2 in the Southland. P.J. Alawoya led the Cowboys with 17 points and 13 rebounds while Anatoly Bose led Nicholls State with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Jimmer Fredette (BYU) 43 points (14-24 FG) and four rebounds in the Cougars' 71-58 win over San Diego State.
2. F Jackie Carmichael (Illinois State) 24 points and 17 rebounds in the Redbirds' 79-78 overtime win at Bradley.
3. G/F Mike Singletary (Texas Tech) 33 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in the Red Raiders' 92-83 win at Iowa State.
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