Slowing down Jimmer Fredette has been a gargantuan task all season, but it’s something sure to be the focus of BYU’s opponents as the competition stiffens in March.
The seventh-ranked Cougars might have found another option to relieve the pressure on the nation’s leading scorer.
Charles Abouo combined with Fredette to carry BYU to its latest victory, delivering a season-best performance he’ll look to build off Saturday afternoon when the visiting Cougars look for a 15th straight win over woeful TCU.
Fredette leads the nation with 27.3 points per game and is the frontrunner to be the National Player of the Year, but BYU (24-2, 10-1 Mountain West) knows it’ll need more than the talented senior to have success next month.
No one stepped up last March when Fredette struggled in a Mountain West tournament semifinal loss to UNLV or when the Cougars fell to Kansas State in the second round of the NCAA tournament, but this time it might have a few reliable options if Fredette’s shots aren’t falling.
Freshman guard Kyle Collinsworth suffered a concussion Feb. 5 against UNLV, and Abouo - a starter earlier this season whose role had been reduced over the past two months - had 10 points in 24 minutes. He had seven points and four rebounds while starting in a 90-52 rout of Air Force on Feb. 9, and was still in the starting lineup last Saturday against Utah despite Collinsworth’s return.
Keeping Abouo on the floor couldn’t have worked out better. He had 17 first-half points to help the Cougars survive a rocky first half and finished with a career high-tying 22 in the 72-59 victory.
“Charles having 22 points is a direct result of how (Utah) wanted to guard Jimmer, and Charles was ready to go,” coach Dave Rose said. “Different guys are stepping up and we’re finding ways to win games.”
Fredette finished with 23—17 in the final nine minutes—but he was hardly alone in lifting BYU after halftime. Second-leading scorer Jackson Emery had 13 of his 17 points after the break, and finished with six steals.
“I take a lot of pride in being a spark for the team,” Emery said.
Rose hasn’t said whether he’ll start Collinsworth or Abouo on Saturday, though the junior from the Ivory Coast figures to see plenty of action either way.
Fredette had 21 points and Emery - who TCU coach Jim Christian called “the most underrated player in the league” - scored 17 in an 83-67 win over the Horned Frogs (10-17, 1-11) on Jan. 18.
That was the second straight loss for TCU, but it’s gotten much worse since. Colorado State won 69-55 in Fort Worth on Wednesday, handing the Horned Frogs their ninth straight defeat.
“I think we just get deflated when something does not go our way,” Christian said. “It is frustrating to these guys when they go down and miss the shots they should make and the other team is making plays. It is tough.”
TCU shot just 35.1 percent in the loss, and when it’s not scoring, it has little chance to win. The Horned Frogs are 0-16 when they’re held under 70 points.
The best game of Abouo’s career prior to last weekend came March 6 at TCU. He and Emery both had 22 points in a 107-77 blowout in which the Cougars shot 52.3 percent.