Jimmer will need more from supporting cast for BYU to survive

San Diego State did more than just crush BYU in  the Mountain West Conference tournament title game on Saturday afternoon in Las Vegas.

The Aztecs laid out a blueprint for the Cougars' upcoming NCAA tournament opponents on how to slow the suddenly vulnerable MWC regular-season co-champs.

While superstar Jimmer Fredette struggled to finish with 30 of the hardest-earned points of his storied BYU career, the paint essentially was off-limits to the Cougars on both ends of the floor. They again looked shaky without sophomore forward Brandon Davies. The team's only top-flight back-to-the-basket scorer and leading rebounder is suspended for the season following a violation of the school's honor code.

Davies had carried the load inside for BYU since it lost 6-foot-9 sophomore Chris Collinsworth to a season-ending knee injury in early January.

Combine the thin depth with a shaky shooting effort from both Fredette and his supporting cast, and BYU was smothered, 72-54. It was the team's lowest scoring output of the season.

San Diego State grabbed seemingly every key rebound. The Aztecs outscored the Cougars in the paint by a landslide, 40-16. SDSU's powerful front-court trio of Kawhi Leonard, Malcolm Thomas and Billy White combined for 50 points and 27 rebounds. {YSP:MORE}

In an attempt to light some kind — any kind — of a spark inside, BYU coach Dave Rose inserted little-used 6-foot-10 junior James Anderson for 14 minutes. It was only the second time since Jan. 26 that he'd logged double-digit minutes. He was 0 for 3 from the floor with two rebounds, two blocks and three fouls.

"I don't think it's a huge concern," Fredette quietly said afterwards. "[Our bigs] did a good job tonight, against New Mexico [on Friday] we did a much better job, and they have big, athletic guys inside as well.

"I don't think it's gonna be as big of an issue as everybody thinks."

BYU earned a No. 3-seed in the NCAA tourney for the second time in school history, and surviving its opening weekend pod will be no breeze. The Cougars open with Wofford, which nearly upset Wisconsin as a 13-seed last March, then potentially the winner between St. John's and Gonzaga. The Zags have the big, athletic bodies to successfully copy SDSU's approach, while the Johnnies are an athletic, in-your-face defensive club.

It's not all doom and gloom for the Cougars, though. Three things need to happen in order for them to overcome the now-glaring weakness in the post.

• Jimmer simply needs to be Jimmer. He doesn't need to score 52 points like he did on Friday against New Mexico, but he at least needs to be as efficient as he was that night from the floor. He hit 22-of-37 shot attempts (59.5 percent) and half of his 3-point tries. If the shots aren't falling, he needs to get to the free-throw line, where he's an 89.1 percent shooter this season. He was just 10 of 25 from the field against SDSU and 2 of 7 from deep. This team cannot afford for him to go cold. Whether that's fair or not, it's just the way it is.

• Jackson Emery needs to be a top-flight wingman again. The second team All-MWC performer and league Defensive Player of the Year had a rough weekend in Vegas. On top of losing his cool a few times against New Mexico, he shot poorly in all three of BYU's games. He was a combined 10 of 35 from the floor and 5 of 23 from beyond the arc. When hot, he can be just as much of a zone-buster as Fredette.

• Since Davies was lost for the season, the Cougars have inserted 6-foot-5 swingman Charles Abouo at the power forward spot. He has the leaping ability and athleticism to make up for his lack of height in the paint. Plain and simple, he needs to produce. In the two closely contested games to close out the MWC tourney, against the strong front lines of UNM and SDSU, he combined for just seven points and 12 rebounds in 65 minutes. On the defensive end, he's able to contest for rebounds, and on offense, he's crafty enough to score on true bigs.

BYU is unlikely to face a team that was as frustrated and revenge-fueled as San Diego State was on Saturday. But the Cougars do have a target on their backs, and will need more than just Jimmer to protect themselves.

Ryan Greene also covers UNLV and the Mountain West Conference for the Las Vegas Sun. Read his Rebels coverage and follow him on Twitter.

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