Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
OKLAHOMA CITY - The high-fiving, hugging, screaming, smiling and rolling around on the BYU locker room floor at the Ford Center on Thursday afternoon were 17 years of frustration busting loose in jubilation.
The Cougars, by escaping with a 99-92 double-overtime win against the Florida Gators, finally ended the eight-game NCAA losing streak that's haunted the program since BYU knocked off SMU in the first round in 1993.
"I'm really happy for this group of players. We've been through a lot," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "We needed 99 points and two overtimes to get it done, but the guys got it done."
The Cougars had lost seven straight first-round games prior to Thursday's thrilling win, and were ousted in the first round each of the past three seasons.
"I just hope the next time we get in the NCAA and the next game we play that we're just playing for fun, we're not playing for 17 years and we're not playing for eight or nine other teams," Rose said.
Even though the streak is over, and a new and more positive one has started, Thursday's win was in doubt several times before BYU grabbed the lead in the second overtime and went on to outscore the Gators 18-11 in the final five minutes. Actually, the Cougars appeared to be comfortably ahead with a 13-point lead with nine minutes remaining before squandering the lead and needing a strong final-minute finish to force overtime.
At the end of regulation and the first overtime, the Gators had a shot each time for the win, but the misses gave the Cougars new life.
"We felt like we were still in the right spot and the right position to where we could win the game. That was the feeling that we had, that we could win the game," reserved guard Michael Loyd Jr. said.
Cougar junior guard Jimmer Fredette put on a show for the national audience with a game-high and BYU postseason record-tying 37 points. But the spark Loyd provided off the bench, with a career-high 26 points and four steals, was just as crucial in BYU's win. The Cougars advance to play Kansas State on Saturday.
"Mike Loyd was just terrific. He was on attack. He was disruptive defensively. And obviously he scored 26 points," Rose said.
Even though the Cougars went up 11-9 on a Jonathan Tavernari three, neither team could get on a roll early. When BYU switched to a zone midway through the opening half, however, the Gators did exactly what they needed to do and drilled three straight treys in a two-minute span to take a 22-17 lead, and force BYU back into a man defense. Florida, which scored on seven straight possessions, widened the lead to 28-21 with seven minutes left before intermission.
Insert Loyd, who then smacked Florida with an individual 10-0 run to vault BYU back in front 31-28. Loyd first hit a 3-pointer, then a runner in the lane, another 3-pointer and running bank shot.
"Everybody just needed to do their part, and my part just happened to be a bigger role than in the other games that I've had," Loyd said. "I just happened to have open shots, and when the ball came to me I just happened to make the play."
After a jumper by Tyler Haws, Florida"s Kenny Boynton was fouled on a 3-point attempt, and hit all three free throws to make it a 35-33 BYU lead at the break.
The Cougars' defensive heat to start the second half ignited BYU's offense, and another 10-0 run, this one fueled by a Fredette three and a trey by Jackson Emery, had the Cougars leading 59-46 with 9:15 remaining.
The Gators, slowly but surely, cut into that gap until regaining the lead 71-68 on a 3-pointer by Boynton with 2:41 remaining. In fact, a slew of 3-point possessions late in the game were behind Florida's comeback. Boynton, who scored a game-high 26 for the Gators hit four 3-pointers in the stretch and Florida also had four 2-and-1's.
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