The game was decided, the clock ticking down and the Brigham Young fans were the ones doing the celebrating.
”Sweet 16! Sweet 16!” they shouted. Then, an even more fitting refrain: ”You got Jimmered!”
Yep, Gonzaga sure did.
And next, Jimmer Fredette takes his high-scoring show to the Big Easy.
The nation’s leading scorer lived up to the hype once again Saturday, going for 34 points to lift third-seeded BYU to an 89-67 victory over 11th-seeded Gonzaga and send the Cougars to New Orleans for the regional semifinals.
”He can shoot it from anywhere, as soon as he steps on the floor,” said Gonzaga’s Steven Gray, now on the long list of guards who couldn’t stop Fredette.
BYU (32-4) will make its deepest trip in the NCAA tournament since 1981, the year Danny Ainge went coast to coast against Notre Dame for a last-second game-winner – a play that still holds a special place in the school’s rich sports history.
Fredette has a few dozen of his own clips on that highlight reel, with a chance to add some more next Thursday against Florida, a 73-65 winner over UCLA on the other side of the Southeast regional.
In this game, the hoop must have seemed as wide as the Mississippi for The Jimmer.
”Believe it or not I thought we defended him OK,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
He shot 7 for 12 from 3-point range, 11 for 23 overall, and after having trouble getting shots over Gonzaga’s tough defense in the first half, he found his rhythm in the second.
He opened the half by pulling up from 5 feet beyond the upper-right part of the 3-point arc and swishing the shot. That triggered an 11-2 run that put BYU up 56-40.
Gonzaga pulled within eight, but with 8:58 left, Fredette made a shot from the exact same spot as part of a 12-0 run that expanded the lead to 20.
Game over, and the rest was simply a matter of seeing where No. 32’s scoring line would settle. He came up short of the 52 points he scored earlier this month in the Mountain West Conference tournament against New Mexico, but had enough to bump that average up a couple notches, to 28.8.
What a weekend for BYU, a program that makes the NCAA tournament almost every year but hasn’t made it out of the first weekend since the Reagan administration.
”It was very important,” Fredette said. ”It was one of my goals coming into this season. I wanted to get to the second weekend and so did this team, so it’s extremely important.”
It wasn’t all Fredette. He didn’t get his first shot off until almost three minutes into the game and didn’t score until the 11:33 mark, which had to seem like dog years for a team that grew even more dependent on its star earlier this month when leading rebounder Brandon Davies was suspended for violating the school’s honor code.
For the first time since then, BYU genuinely looked like it had some legitimate second options.
Jackson Emery had two 3-pointers, a layup and a steal to keep BYU close during Fredette’s early scoring drought. He finished with 16 points. Noah Hartsock (13 points) hit three more 3-pointers to go with the pair he made in BYU’s opening 74-66 win against Wofford.
”They played as well as we’ve seen them play since the Brandon situation,” Few said. ”When you’ve got a guy who can hit 50, he creates a lot of help situations. Those guys haven’t been shooting the basketball as well as they have been tonight.”
Still, who’d have thought BYU would have had more trouble with Wofford than Gonzaga?
Even though they were seeded 11th, the Zags (25-10) had the look of the kind of team, the kind of program, that could give a supposedly undermanned club some problems.
This was Gonzaga’s 13th straight trip to the tournament, and unlike BYU, the Zags are frequent visitors to the regionals; they were going for their sixth trip since 1999.
They were long and quick, played good defense, had a veteran coach and came in on a 10-game winning streak.
They had some guys who could score. Elias Harris finished with 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting and Gray also scored 18.
But they had no answer for Fredette, who in the buildup to the game drew some comparisons to a Gonzaga star of a few years ago, high-scoring Adam Morrison.
The Bulldogs opened the game with Demetri Goodson shadowing The Jimmer and Goodson made it tough for him to find an open shot. He also got two fouls in the first four minutes and had to go to the bench, which is when things started opening up and Fredette found his shot.
”We wanted to limit his 3s because he has no range; he can shoot from anywhere on the court,” Gonzaga center Robert Sacre said.
Good point. As usual, Fredette had no qualms jacking them up from 25, 26, 27 feet and beyond. But he showed his athleticism, too, never more than when he got fouled hard coming down the lane, but had the strength to pull up and shoot a fadeaway 12-footer – good for a three-point play, the old-fashioned way.
That gave BYU an 82-59 lead with 4:39 left.
”For 40 minutes, it might have been as good as we’ve been all year,” BYU coach Dave Rose said.
The Cougars will join Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference starting next season, adding a major hurdle to the Bulldogs’ quest for their 12th straight conference title.
Fredette won’t be there, though. He’s a senior. And certainly, Gonzaga’s not the only program happy about that.