Jimmer Fredette wasn’t at full strength for BYU when it blew a chance at possibly finishing alone atop the Mountain West Conference. Fredette, though, only seems to get stronger each time he faces Utah.
The No. 14 Cougars are hopeful that Fredette will be at 100 percent Wednesday night when they visit the Utes.
BYU (26-4, 11-3) fell 83-81 to then-No. 10 New Mexico on Saturday, as the Lobos clinched a tie for the MWC crown and the top seed for the conference tournament. Fredette, averaging a league-leading 21.1 points, posted a season-low six in 16 minutes as he was limited due to a stomach illness and replaced for most of the second half by Michael Loyd Jr.
“Jimmer lost his energy,” coach Dave Rose said. “I felt we needed more energy at that position and Mike did a great job.”
The Cougars are hopeful Fredette will be back to his usual form, which has been outstanding in the rivalry with Utah (14-14, 7-7). In five games against the Utes, Fredette has increased his scoring output in each of them, including a 36-point effort in an 82-69 victory Jan. 30.
Fredette scored 23 in a thrilling second half in that game as the Cougars had an 18-point lead cut to four before holding on.
“Their running game and ability to shoot the ball is as good as anyone’s,” coach Jim Boylen said. “We have to try to slow them down.”
BYU, which can clinch the No. 2 seed in the MWC tournament with a victory Wednesday, will try to bounce back from one of its worst perimeter shooting efforts of the season. The Cougars shot 28.6 percent on 3-pointers against the Lobos as their conference-leading percentage dropped to 41.4.
Utah believes that performance was an aberration since BYU made 7 of 14 3s against the Utes, with Fredette sinking 4 of 5.
“You always have to defend the 3,” Boylen said. “They make over eight a game in the league. You have to defend them in transition. They get 3s in transition and layups.”
Loyd was outstanding with the ailing Fredette out, scoring all of his career-high 19 points in the second half against the Lobos. Freshman Tyler Haws, who was recruited by Utah, added 18.
“It was a great college game, a great atmosphere,” Rose said. “Two great teams went down to the wire. We had our chances and they didn’t go our way.”
The Cougars will face a difficult atmosphere with the Huntsman Center expected to be sold out for the first time since BYU visited in February 2005. Utah has won three of four after beating Wyoming 74-64 on Saturday.
BYU can tie the all-time series at 150-all with its seventh victory in eight meetings. The Utes are eager to put up a better showing than they did in January.
“We’ve grown a lot since that last game,” Boylen said. “We’ve learned a lot since that last game.”