PROVO, Utah (AP)—The hand-painted sign by a BYU fan told San Diego State players to “FredetteAboutIt.”
But the biggest showdown in Mountain West Conference history was about more than Jimmer Fredette and the 43 points he scored.
The ninth-ranked Cougars showed they also have plenty of talented big men in Wednesday night’s 71-58 victory over No. 4 San Diego State that left No. 1 Ohio State as the only unbeaten team in the nation.
“It was a physical game and we stayed with them for about 35 minutes, but we just couldn’t hang for 40,” San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. “This team is really good and our team is really good. I think we are both capable of beating any team anywhere at any time.”
BYU (20-1, 6-0) has won 10 straight, and six in a row at home against San Diego State (20-1, 5-1).
While Fredette led the way on 14-of-24 shooting, reserve center James Anderson helped break open a close game with a career-high five blocks in 14 minutes. BYU forward Brandon Davies also kept the Cougars in it early with eight points in the first 10 minutes.
“I feel like our guys really battled,” coach Dave Rose said.
It helped to have a frenzied, sellout crowd of 22,700 cheering them on in the first Mountain West matchup between top-10 basketball teams.
Fans came with blue hair, white hair, painted faces and signs that shouted everything from “You Got Jimmered” to “Kemba Who?” in reference to another other top candidate for player of the year, Connecticut guard Kemba Walker.
A sign also proclaimed Fredette “The Real King James”—a reference to NBA star LeBron James.
Though two dozen NBA scouts descended on Provo, they caught more than just Fredette.
They saw sophomore Kawhi Leonard record another double-double for the Aztecs with 22 points and 15 rebounds. And they also saw Anderson, an unheralded junior.
“James did a great job,” Davies said of the 6-foot-10 Anderson, who added three rebounds. “They have great bigs and that’s one of the things we emphasized. … He came in and played them 1-on-1 and did a great job.”
The Cougars trailed 31-30 at halftime thanks to a late 3-pointer by Leonard.
But BYU turned it on in the second half. With the score tied at 44, the Cougars went on a 16-8 run to take a 60-52 lead with 4:12 to go.
Noah Hartsock capped the run with a layup. Fredette also hit a pair of 3-pointers, Anderson had several key blocks and BYU’s career steals leader, Jackson Emery, came up with a key theft and jam.
Emery scored only four points but held Aztecs point guard D.J. Gay to two on 0-for-7 shooting.
Leonard’s jumper pulled San Diego State to 60-54 with 3:45 remaining, but then Fredette took over. He made seven straight free throws to give BYU a 13-point lead.
“I made my first couple of shots in the second half and I wanted to keep going and being aggressive,” said Fredette, who has topped 40 points in three of his last four games.
San Diego State won the rebounding battle 42-35, but only by two in the second half.
“I think the key to the win was our big guys coming in and rebounding the heck out of the ball in the second half,” Fredette said.
The biggest winner might have been the Mountain West Conference, which was back in the national spotlight less than a month after TCU wrapped up an undefeated football season and No. 2 national ranking with a Rose Bowl win.
This game was nearly as physical.
There were more blocks (five) than fouls (three) in the first 14 minutes as the officials let the teams go at it.
A crowd revved up by Fredette’s older brother 90 minutes before tip-off loved it.
TJ Fredette, who helped make Jimmer the player he is today by having him dribble left-handed, with a work glove on or in darkened church hallways when they were kids, belted out a pair of rap songs as he climbed into the student section before the game.
He performed “Amazing,” which he unveiled during last year’s NCAA tournament, and the “Sequel to Amazing,” which was a tribute to his brother and his decision to return for his senior season.
“He had some unfinished business,” TJ Fredette said.
That included winning the Mountain West. Now, the Cougars are alone atop the conference—and the rematch Feb. 26 in San Diego is already sold out.