ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP)—New Mexico’s Dairese Gary knows he’s facing one of his toughest assignments all season against BYU point guard Jimmer Fredette.
All Gary needs to do is stop BYU’s scoring machine.
“You mean try to put a lockdown on him,” Gary said, laughing. “He’s been putting up a lot of points this year. He’s a good player.”
Fredette has fought mononucleosis over the past several weeks but scored 33 points in a 71-69 win at San Diego State last Saturday. His layup with 19.9 seconds to go gave the No. 12 Cougars (20-1, 5-0 Mountain West) the winning cushion.
He played 38 minutes, despite BYU coach Dave Rose watching for signs of fatigue.
“I was going to leave him out there until he started feeling bad,” Rose said. “I expected him to tire and he never did, which was a great sign for us. We tried to rest him in the first half and the game kind of got away from us. He really settles us down.”
Fredette also had 49 points during BYU’s 99-69 win at Arizona on Dec. 28. Although he missed two games with his illness, his efforts have helped the Cougars win 15 straight, the second-longest active streak in the nation behind Kentucky’s 19 in a row.
“He’s terrific,” New Mexico coach Steve Alford said. “He can score 40 on any given night. This is a very special talent. He’s outstanding without the ball, definitely the catalyst of their team.”
But Gary is no slouch, either.
He’s a steady hand on a young team, guiding the No. 23 Lobos (18-3, 4-2) to three victories over opponents that were ranked when New Mexico played them this season—California, Texas A&M and Texas Tech.
Last weekend, Gary made his 83rd straight start and led all scorers with 17 points in an 82-64 win over Colorado State.
Gary and Fredette, both juniors, are developing a friendly rivalry, and Gary said he’s looking forward to “a fun game.” But Alford called BYU the best team New Mexico has faced all season and seemed less certain that facing Fredette will be a joyride.
“We’ve watched about 10 game tapes. We’re still trying to figure out how to guard him,” Alford said. “He’s a load. When you’re faced with this kind of talent, it doesn’t do any good to throw two or three guys at him because he’ll pass the ball.
“But we feel like we’ve got a pretty good point guard, too, so it’s a great matchup.”
New Mexico’s rabid fans are sure to be fired up. The game sold out Monday, the fifth of the season at The Pit, where a $60 million renovation project has reduced capacity from 18,100 to a smaller but raucous-as-ever crowd of 14,586.
It’s only the second time the Lobos and Cougars have been ranked when facing each other. On Feb. 17, 1973, No. 18 New Mexico beat No. 20 BYU 76-66 in Provo, Utah.
New Mexico has won four straight since an 0-2 start in Mountain West play, with bench scoring making a huge difference since Alford challenged his young reserves—all freshmen and sophomores—to step it up.
Over the past four games, New Mexico’s reserves have averaged 21.8 points and 11.8 rebounds. Curtis Dennis, averaging 2.7 points per game, scored five during a 14-0 run that snapped a 22-22 tie against Colorado State and the Lobos led by at least 12 points the rest of the way.
“Not only has our bench scored, but they’re rebounded and guarded,” Alford said. “Those are things you like to see, knowing you can come back with your starters and get more experienced play.”