Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
OKLAHOMA CITY — Growing up, Michael Loyd Jr. always wanted to play basketball for the Florida Gators.
In BYU's 99-92 double-overtime win over Florida on Thursday that snapped an eight-game NCAA losing streak, the Gators probably wished Loyd were wearing their blue and orange. The Cougars, on the other hand, were thanking their lucky stars that the Las Vegas native picked BYU blue three years ago.
"Mike Loyd played as good as anyone in the country today as far as making key plays," BYU senior center Chris Miles said of Loyd's 26 points and four steals off the bench.
It wasn't necessarily Florida's basketball program that had Loyd, who never was offered a spot on the Gators' roster, looking their way. It was Florida's sunshine, beaches and lifestyle that attracted him.
"I just thought it would be a fun place to live. That was just always one of my dreams," Loyd said.
On Thursday, he lived out another of his dreams — winning an NCAA Tournament game and having a big part in the victory.
"We knew from the beginning of the season that we had a special group of guys," Loyd said. "We knew we could do this, and we went ahead and did it."
However, it probably wouldn't have happened without the spark provided by Loyd. With the Cougars trailing by seven points late in the first half and the Gators on a streak of scoring on seven straight possessions, Loyd went off for a 10-0 personal run that totally changed the complexion of the game. First he drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing. Then he tossed in a tough floater down the middle. Then he swished in a 3-pointer from the left wing — a shot that put BYU up 29-28. Following a steal by Loyd on the other end, he finished off the play with a driving layup to push BYU's lead to three.
"If someone else is locked up, I just try to make the right play at the right time," Loyd said.
When BYU found itself down by four in the first overtime, and the game seemed to be in Florida's favor, Loyd provided the big lift once again. He hit two free throws, stole the ball on the other end and then hit two more free throws to tie the game. After Florida regained the lead with 56 seconds left, Loyd raced in for another basket to tie the game 81-81.
But the 3-point shot he hit to open the second overtime was the basket that finally put BYU over the hump and turned the momentum back the Cougars' way for good. He added three free throws later for a little icing on the cake.
"As long as I can help my team to win, that's all I want to do," Loyd said of his of-late spark plug role. "I want my teammates and coaches to be able to count on me. I want them to know that I can help us win."
When Jimmer Fredette missed time late in the season while battling mononucleosis and the flu, the minutes Loyd got as Fredette's replacement have turned into a huge bonus for BYU. Rose also believes Loyd has benefited from redshirting last season and learning to be a little more patient with his game.
"One thing I can tell you is that when we redshirt players, we think that they're really good," Rose said. "With Mike, we wanted to kind of spread Jimmer and Mike out in the same class. When Mike redshirted last year, he got a lot better, and this year we've found places to play him and he's been really good."
Florida coach Billy Donovan said BYU's depth hurt the Gators in the final overtime. The Gators were thin at the guard line when Kenny Boynton fouled out, and the other guys were tired from more than 40 minutes of chasing Fredette (37 points) and Jackson Emery around. They surely didn't catch a break when Loyd came in.
"When they bring (Charles) Abouo in and Loyd in, the intensity level goes up," Donovan said. "I think that that actually put more pressure on Boynton and (Erving) Walker because now you're chasing Fredette around for 35 seconds and now (Loyd) comes in, Fredette is resting, and this guy (Loyd) is coming at you full speed. It makes it really, really difficult."
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