Coming off a huge conference win over a top 10 opponent, BYU has vaulted to its highest ranking in 23 years and is being mentioned as a possible No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament.
Now, the Cougars will have to deal with the suspension of one of their better players.
With Brandon Davies being held out for the rest of the season for violating the school’s honor code, Jimmer Fredette and No. 3 BYU look to clinch a share of the Mountain West title and avenge their only conference loss of the season when they host New Mexico on Wednesday night.
BYU (27-2, 13-1) defeated then-No. 6 San Diego State 80-67 on Saturday in a much-hyped battle for first place in the conference. Fredette had 25 points and nine assists for the Cougars, who swept the season series from the Aztecs to take a one-game lead with two to play.
“A big win for those players and I’m really proud of them,” BYU coach Dave Rose said.
The Cougars jumped four spots in the poll, giving them their highest position since they were third in 1988.
After Saturday’s victory, Rose was asked if he thought his team deserved a top seed for the NCAAs.
“I don’t really think about it,” he said. “The only time I actually think about seeding is when guys ask me. But realistically, I’ll enjoy this for a few hours and then we’ll get ready for New Mexico. New Mexico has been good against us the last couple of years.”
The Cougars, though, will be without Davies - a sophomore forward who has started 26 of 29 games this season, averaging 11.1 points, a team-high 6.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 24.9 minutes. Rose said he would address the issue surrounding Davies following Wednesday’s game.
Rose’s team has lost three straight to the Lobos (18-11, 6-8), with BYU being ranked 13th or higher each time, and four of the last five matchups. New Mexico had lost 16 of the previous 20 meetings before this five-game stretch.
The Lobos knocked off the then-No. 9 Cougars 86-77 at The Pit on Jan. 29. Fredette had 32 points and went 6 of 9 from 3-point range, but he was limited to five free-throw attempts. Lobos freshman Tony Snell made three 3-pointers in the final five minutes and New Mexico pulled off its biggest home upset since a 77-74 win over then-No. 3 Utah in 1998.
Lobos coach Steve Alford went with a four-guard lineup to push the ball, knowing the plan could backfire because BYU leads the conference with 82.9 points per game. The Cougars, however, went cold, missing nine of their final 11 shots after leading by two with six minutes to play.
That is the Cougars’ only loss in their last 18 games, and they hope things will go better on their home court.
BYU has won all 12 games at the Marriott Center this season by an average of 21.9 points, and is 27-1 there since the start of last season. The lone blemish was an 83-81 defeat to then-No. 10 New Mexico on Feb. 27, 2010.
While the Lobos won the conference title in 2009-10, they haven’t enjoyed as much success this season. New Mexico, which snapped a four-game slide with an 80-70 victory over TCU on Saturday, needs to win its final two games to avoid finishing with a losing conference record for the first time since 2006-07. That was the season before Alford took over in Albuquerque.
Senior Dairese Gary had another outstanding performance for the Lobos on Saturday, finishing with a career-best 32 points and going 11 of 14 from the floor. Gary, who scored 14 points against BYU in January, is averaging 26.3 in his last three games - 11.8 more than his team-leading average.