After failing to claim at least a share of a fourth consecutive Mountain West title, BYU will set its sights on winning the conference tournament for the first time in nine years.
With a healthy Jimmer Fredette, they will certainly feel more confident about their chances.
Fredette and the 14th-ranked Cougars face TCU for the second time in a week on Thursday at Las Vegas in the Mountain West quarterfinals.
BYU (28-4) tied the program record for wins in a single season, set in 1950-51, with a 107-77 victory at TCU on Saturday. Still, the Cougars settled for a second-place finish in the conference, one game behind eighth-ranked New Mexico.
“You can tell how competitive this group really is,” coach Dave Rose said. “They all have a different demeanor in how they show their competitive spirit. One thing I know is that they do not like to lose. I think we’re in a really good spot to start this postseason play because of their character and commitment to each other.”
BYU is looking to win its second Mountain West tournament title and first since 2001. The Cougars are 12-9 in the tournament, losing to San Diego State in the semifinals last season after entering as the No. 1 seed.
They don’t expect another early exit considering Fredette, the conference’s leading scorer at 20.6 points per game, appears to be getting healthier. He struggled with mononucleosis in January and was slowed by the stomach flu in a loss to the Lobos on Feb. 27, scoring a season-low six points in 16 minutes. After scoring eight points against Utah in the following contest, he finished with 18 in 22 minutes against TCU on Saturday.
Fredette, who scored 26 points in the first meeting with the Horned Frogs, averaged 19.0 in last season’s MWC tournament.
Senior Jonathan Tavernari hopes to provide Fredette with some help after scoring a season-high 23 against TCU, shooting 5 of 8 from 3-point range. Tavernari was held to five points in last year’s surprising tournament loss to San Diego State after scoring 19 in an opening-round win over Air Force.
TCU (13-18) has lost its two matchups against BYU by a combined 50 points, but it was competitive early in the most recent, taking an 18-4 lead to start the game. The Cougars, however, went on a 27-11 run and took a 57-43 lead at the half.
Rose doesn’t expect an easy time Thursday, especially after watching the Horned Frogs shoot close to 60 percent in the first half Saturday.
“It’ll be a real challenge,” he said. “The first 10 minutes of the game will be a real emphasis for us after how they came out against us.”
Horned Frogs leading scorer Ronnie Moss had 17 points in the loss and is averaging 16.8 in the last 11, but he’s also averaging 3.7 turnovers in that span and he had six versus BYU.
TCU has lost its last three MWC tournament games since a 62-54 win over New Mexico in the first round in 2007.
The winner of this game will face either UNLV or Utah on Friday.