March 24, 2011
His left calf was aching, he played most of the second half with a bandaged-up chin and shot a porous 11 of 29 from the floor.
BYU rode Jimmer Fredette — now widely known as just "The Jimmer" — to the program's first Sweet 16 since 1981, a Mountain West Conference regular-season title and national prominence. But eventually, the magic had to run out.
Florida forced the drainage in sound fashion, ousting the Cougars on Wednesday night in New Orleans with an 83-74 overtime triumph.
BYU played either from behind or neck-and-neck with a bigger, stronger and deeper team all night, managing to hang around despite the nation's leading scorer taking longer than normal to get going.
Fredette missed his first six shots of the game, didn't score until there were just over six minutes left in the first half and, still, the two were tied at the half, 36-36.
Just after the start of the second stanza, TV cameras showed footage of Fredette having his calf worked on by the BYU training staff, immediately setting him up to become the wounded savior.
It appeared that he was on the cusp of willing the Cougars past the Gators in the tourney for the second year in a row with five minutes to go in the game. First, off of a Noah Hartsock steal, he shielded 6-foot-9 Chandler Parsons for 25 feet in the open court en route to a pretty finger roll. Fredette followed it up moments later with a 30-foot 3-pointer in transition to tie it again, 63-63, sending play-by-play guru Gus Johnson into one of his signature frenzies.
After that, though, Florida locked him up by rotating a slew of big, quick bodies and became much more disciplined on the defensive end. Following the spurt, Fredette simply tried to do too much, but was visibly running low on gas.
In the game's final two minutes, he was the only Cougar to attempt a shot, missing badly on two forced, deep threes. In overtime, he was 0 for 2 from the floor with two ill-timed turnovers, to boot.
"We played the whole game, and I was a little bit tired, but it's not an excuse," said Fredette, who played 44 minutes. "They were ready to go, especially in that overtime. We had a chance, we got a stop, we had a chance to get a rebound, they got an offensive rebound and put it out. And you never know what could have happened if we got that rebound. But they definitely had fresh legs and they were ready to go in that overtime."
BYU coach Dave Rose made a classy move in pulling Fredette in the final minute with the outcome all but decided, giving him a chance to get an ovation not just from the Cougar faithful, but also, surprisingly, from the Florida crowd.
The game was played at the up-and-down pace that Fredette and BYU prefer, with the two teams combining to hoist 71 3-point attempts. But the Cougars simply couldn't hit enough shots to keep up. As a team, they were 25 of 71 from the floor (35.2 percent) and a woeful 10 of 37 from deep (27 percent).
Fredette? Well, it was about the ugliest 32-point performance you'll see. He was 3 of 15 from deep, and despite offering up five assists, had six turnovers and never could dominate the game for more than a minute at a time.
Some may say Fredette was too selfish down the stretch, but the truth is that BYU wouldn't have been on this stage without his abnormal offensive repertoire pacing the team to 32 wins, which many times involved him taking shots that would drive most coaches insane. Despite color analyst Reggie Miller jumping on him verbally for several of those shots, no one on the BYU bench seemed to mind, and if pressed, they'd probably still not groan over the attempts, either.
It masked a problem that was surprisingly rare for BYU this year — without Fredette at least performing consistently on the offensive end, winning wasn't so easy.
It was reminiscent of his 10-of-25 showing two weeks ago in the MWC tournament title game against San Diego State. On that day, Fredette scored a quiet 30 points, BYU lost by 18 and produced its lowest point total of the season (54). From there, it was known that any team able to make Fredette work as hard as humanly possible for his 30 points could likely take the Cougars down.
The supporting cast all season had done enough to supplement Fredette's superhuman performances, but fell flat offensively on Wednesday. Jackson Emery hit a trio of 3-pointers in the opening minutes, though couldn't score again. Charles Abouo and Noah Hartsock, who had played admirably over the last few weeks with the absence of suspended power forward Brandon Davies, combined to hit just five of their 18 shot attempts.
Now, instead of playing for the school's first Final Four berth, Fredette will accept a new challenge in trying to quiet the critics who all season have tried to rain on his future in saying that his NBA prospects are slim. His ridiculous range will likely get his foot in the door and keep him on a roster for a long time. Fredette is a much better athlete than people give him credit for, and how prominent of an NBA player he becomes likely depends on his ability to take those physical tools and transform himself into a serviceable defender.
So how will The Jimmer be remembered? Well, for one wild season, he averaged a shade under 30 points per game, seemed to break a different school, conference or national record every night and — let's face it — he made everyone want to stay up late and find obscure channels such as The Mtn. or CBS College Sports just to watch BYU basketball.
He inspired numerous T-shirts, songs and catchphrases. Even if he doesn't win National Player of the Year honors, there's one thing Fredette had over every other standout individual player this season — he was both a rock star and a pop culture phenomenon. No one else could even come close to claiming that type of stature.
"You think of every season and the different challenges that he had and the way he finished his career being probably better than everyone thought he was when he started the year, and everyone thought he was pretty good when he started the year," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "And then winning games. That's his legacy. He just helped his team find ways to win games."
But Wednesday night was proof that one player — even one who's become something of a mythical creature — can only take you so far.
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