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Jimmer, BYU hope to continue NCAA run vs. Florida

POSTED March 21, 2011 9:37 p.m.
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BYU fans hold up signs during a Southeast Regio...

 

PROVO, Utah (AP) — A week ago, BYU players were still tired and sore when Monday's practice rolled around.

Now, after making their deepest NCAA tournament run in 30 years, a little bit of the swagger is back.

Of course it helps that one potential nemesis, Southeast regional No. 1 seed Pitt, has been knocked out.

"I think we thought we could do it regardless," star guard Jimmer Fredette said Monday. "We thought we had a good team, but now that we're in this position, it's not that far, not that far away. But we've got to take it one game at time."

The Cougars will catch a flight Tuesday to New Orleans where they'll face a Florida team they upset in the first round a year ago, pulling out a 99-92 double-overtime win.

It was a coming-out party of sorts for Fredette, who scored 37 points in the nationally televised game.

Jimmermania has taken off since then. NBA stars have tweeted his name. President Obama mentioned him when filling out his bracket. And the BYU faithful have fueled a frenzy that has reached high above the mountains surrounding the quiet Provo campus.

Fredette continues to take it all in stride.

Instead of going out Sunday in a town where he has been elevated to idol status, Fredette laid low.

"I just kind of relaxed on Sunday," he said. "I didn't talk to anybody, just hung out, stretched. I kind of stayed away from it all."

Part of that is knowing what his body endured last season when he battled through mononucleosis.

Part of that is knowing what awaits him in New Orleans.

Double teams, triple teams, efforts to keep the ball out of his hands.

"I think they're just going to be really tenacious ... run at my ball screens hard, maybe double them and try to get the ball out of my hands," Fredette said of Florida.

The Gators return just about everyone from last year's team — with players who scored 88 of the 92 points back. BYU has players back who scored 55 of its 99, and none more important than Fredette, a Naismith Award finalist .

The 6-foot-2 senior is averaging 34.7 points in his last seven games despite the suspension of leading rebounder and third-leading scoring Brandon Davies and despite seeing just about every type of defense thrown at him.

He knows it won't be easy in the Big Easy.

"They're just better because they're more experienced and have played together for two years," Fredette said. "They won two games in the NCAA tournament together as a team and they're used to winning."

BYU coach Dave Rose also sees a more experienced Gators team.

"They're a year older, one year more experienced, with a lot more wins consistently this year. They found ways to close out games, win games," Rose said.

Then again so have his Cougars, who have overcome the suspension of Davies for an honor-code violation.

"I guess you could say we lost some of our swagger, or we had to re-identify ourselves," guard Jackson Emery said. "We had to find who we were with this bunch of guys. You lose one guy, it shouldn't affect the whole team. I think it did mentally a little bit. We just had to figure out how to implement other guys and different strategies and different lineups."

In Saturday's second-round win over Gonzaga, Emery said he saw a team that finally looked comfortable again.

Rose, who was part of Houston's Final Four run in 1983, agreed.

"I thought the 40 minutes we played against Gonzaga was a team that was really dialed into the way we played all year long," Rose said. "We shared the ball, trusted each other. We made open shots. We competed hard around the rim."

He hopes that will continue as the spotlight gets brighter and the stage bigger.

Last year's win over Florida marked the first time BYU reached the second round of the tournament in 17 years, snapping a streak of seven straight first-round losses.

Now, the Cougars have a chance to go where Danny Ainge took them in 1981, when his famous coast-to-coast drive beat Notre Dame and moved BYU into the Elite Eight.

Fredette, who recently broke Ainge's career scoring record, knows it's within reach.

"I think we've had a successful year, a great year," he said. "Making it to the Sweet 16 has been a goal of mine, to make it to the second weekend. But we want to continue. We want to continue this great run that we've had. I feel like we have a great team to do that."

 


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