For the first time in almost a month, the BYU Cougars will be wearing their blue uniforms when they take the floor versus the Florida Gators on Thursday, in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16.
For seven consecutive games, the Cougars have been wearing white, as either the home team or the higher seed in tournament play — the favored team. The irony is that the last game BYU played in its road uniforms was the last game the Cougars played with Brandon Davies, a game that resulted in a resounding win at San Diego State on Feb. 26. Since the Davies suspension, BYU has been in white, but dodging outsiders' dark clouds of doubt.
Jimmer Fredette said after the Gonzaga win that even without Davies, "we're still a very, very good team. I've been telling everybody that all along."
Having gone 5-2 with its new lineup, and having summarily dispatched the big, deep and tournament-tested Bulldogs, BYU may have finally turned doubters into believers.
The Cougars have been learning to play a new way minus one of their most important players, and BYU appeared to have conquered the learning curve in Saturday's win over Gonzaga — an 11 seed that most experts picked to beat the third-seeded but shorthanded Cougars.
"The phrase is 'survive and advance' — well, we played terrific (against Gonzaga)," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "We did a lot more than just survive, we played really well. I don't know if you could draw it up any better, for your guys to come out and play a big game on a big stage and play their best."
Fredette averaged 33 points per game in BYU's two NCAA Tournament wins last week, but the strength of the team was the team itself. Against Wofford, Logan Magnusson's 10 points and seven rebounds were integral to a hard-fought victory. Versus Gonzaga, Stephen Rogers' 10 points and James Anderson's 16 first-half minutes were as important as any of the contributions from the Cougars' starters.
BYU has had to make tactical and personnel modifications in Davies' absence, but the fabric of the group has remained intact.
"I don't know if you'll ever find a group of guys that get along as well," said Rose. "They play for each other, root for each other and pull for each other in a really competitive world where everybody is out for themselves."
What is truly remarkable is how the "all for one and one for all" mentality has thrived in an environment that could otherwise foster division or jealousy. The individual attention lavished on Fredette has been unprecedented, yet Fredette's transcendent status as the face of college basketball has been accepted and embraced within his own locker room.
"I've just been amazed at how happy, how genuinely happy our players are for Jimmer's success," Rose said.
Rose credits Fredette and his fellow senior captains (Jackson Emery and Magnusson) for instilling in his team the will to win despite late-season adversity.
"They're really competitive guys, those three seniors," Rose said. "They really got the team in a position to where it's, 'Hey, listen, it's not time for us to stop playing yet; we can beat these guys if we all just play our best game.'"
It's an attitude that served the team well last Saturday in Denver; it will be needed again Thursday in New Orleans.
Tourney Tidbits: Jimmer Fredette has scored 1,036 points on the season, the 13th-highest total in NCAA Div. I basketball history and the most points scored in a single season since 1991. Dave Rose heads to the Sweet 16 as the third winningest active Div. I head coach, by win percentage. North Carolina's Roy Williams leads at 79.9 percent, followed by Gonzaga's Mark Few at 79.2 percent and Rose at 78.3 percent. Few and Rose are slated to coach against one another as West Coast Conference rivals next season.
The Cougars' 32 wins extend a single-season school record; BYU has recorded back-to-back 30-plus-win seasons for the first time in school history.
Greg Wrubell is the radio play-by-play "Voice of the Cougars," and hosts BYU Football and Basketball Coaches' Shows on KSL Newsradio and KSL 5 Television. Wrubell's blog "Cougar Tracks" can be found at byu.ksl.com. "Behind the Mic" is published every Tuesday during the BYU football and basketball seasons. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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