PROVO — Jimmer Fredette may have manned the driver seat, but Jackson Emery controlled the throttle Wednesday night in BYU's convincing win over San Diego State before a crowd of 20,124.
Emery may be the designer defender to play atop a zone defense. Against the Aztecs, a team that likes to attack the basket, BYU rolled out a zone just like it did in its win at San Diego, and Emery pounced like a cat from his wing position.
That zone and Emery's play in it proved a key to BYU's 26th win of the season as Fredette canned 26 points and Emery continued his work as a basketball felon with his 20th multi-steal game.
There have been games at home and on the road where BYU has raced to huge leads right out of the chute. This one wasn't one of them.
The Cougars took a decent stretch in this one to find a cadence to their game. Once they found it against the Aztecs, they made it look easy, even businesslike in running to a convincing 82-68 win and sweep of Steve Fisher's squad.
This is championship week, and perhaps Dave Rose's team felt that in the first 16 minutes of this game. BYU looked shaky on offense, and even Jimmer Fredette struggled to deliver automatic free throw tosses, a trademark of his game.
Actually, explained Emery, visitors to the Marriott Center sometimes come out with a lot of energy, but once they spend a chunk of it in the opening minutes of the first half, they tire — and that's when BYU has to make playing at home pay off.
"They get tired. You see that when they start substituting, and that's when we needed to attack."
Emery said BYU's slow start on offense came because of SDSU's athleticism. "They are so athletic and long, so at first we tried to see what kind of shots would work, what we could make because they are so good at blocking or altering your shots. We missed a lot of layups and easy shots because of them."
BYU and SDSU stood toe-to-toe, duking it out in the first half. Neither team enjoyed a run or any kind of comfort as defenses ruled. BYU's zone bugged the Aztecs, and SDSU's shot-blockers and quick jumpers inside stymied the Cougars.
Somebody needed a fuse lighter. Bottled up at 23, the first half melting away, the Cougars found just the pyro in Emery.
The junior from Lone Peak fired up his teammates by keeping a steady defensive tone while scoring seven of BYU's final eight points of the first half. That spurt by Emery ignited an 11-0 Cougar run. The 36-28 halftime lead for the Cougars proved insurmountable for the Aztecs, who had tied the Cougars seven times with 11 lead changes in the first 16 minutes.
Emery finished the game with 17 points on an impressive 6 of 7 shots from the field. He had a team-high 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 5 steals.
But he was never better than joining BYU's wing players in fast-breaking the Aztecs to death.
"They are the best running team in our league," said Fisher. "At some time, you've got to send three people back to defend the break."
The Aztecs, whose trademark is crashing the boards, could not get back.
"Once we started getting stops with our defense, we settled down and did what we do best, and that's our transition game," said Emery.
The Cougars scored 23 points of turnovers and outscored SDSU 20-4 in fast break points. At times, SDSU stars like Malcolm Thomas just had to reach and grab because he and his mates were always behind when BYU fired out from a defensive stop.
Because the Cougars beat SDSU in San Diego, they were expected to beat the Aztecs Wednesday at home.
Saturday's challenge with New Mexico will be tougher. Unlike the up and down Aztecs, the Lobos bring a 12-game win streak to Provo. This BYU zone defense is something Lobo sharpshooters whipped up on in Albuquerque last month.
It should be a dandy.