BYU basketball: Cougars know they're going to the Big Dance

Published: Tuesday, March 8 2011 11:55 p.m. MST

BYU guard Jimmer Fredette, high-fiving fans after last Saturday's win, says there's more pressure on the Cougars' MWC tourney opponents now.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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LAS VEGAS — While most of the teams competing in the Mountain West Conference Tournament this week will be desperately trying to battle their way into the NCAA Tournament, No. 8 BYU knows that by virtue of a stellar regular-season performance, it's already clinched a spot in the Big Dance.

As MWC regular-season co-champions, the Cougars are the top seed in the MWC Tournament. Though BYU is dealing with the suspension of sophomore forward Brandon Davies, the aim is to ignore distractions and play good basketball.

"The pressure is on all the other teams right now," said senior guard Jimmer Fredette. "We know we are going to get an NCAA Tournament bid at this point. We don't need to do much in the conference tournament, although we want to. We want to win games. That's our goal, to win the conference tournament championship. But these other teams are fighting for their lives, trying to get into the (NCAA) tournament still. So there's not too much pressure on us at this point. We want to play as relaxed as we can, then go out, work hard and hopefully win this thing."

The Cougars haven't won the MWC Tournament title since 2001.

Coach Dave Rose would like to see his team focus on competing.

"I hope our players are extremely relaxed and we can just play with competition as our main goal. I really like this team when we're just playing to win, when we don't have other things on top of us. ... It's not like we have to go down there and do something for the world to notice. But I do know how competitive these guys are. I know how competitive our coaching staff is. It's really important for us to win when we play. Hopefully, we'll play well and we'll be able to build game-to-game and get better and better."

BYU faces the winner of today's Wyoming-TCU play-in game on Thursday (1 p.m. MST, The Mtn.) in the tournament quarterfinals.

Rose wants to see his team play like it did in the second half of last Saturday's 102-78 win over Wyoming. BYU shot 68 percent (21-of-31) from the floor and scored 64 points in the final 20 minutes against the Cowboys.

"I felt like we were pressing a lot in the first half of the Wyoming game," Rose said. "I thought we were feeling the pressure of trying to finish this out with a championship. In the second half, I thought we found ourselves. We were playing to compete. I think most coaches will tell you that the freer you play, the better you play, the more intense you play. Hopefully that's how we can play (in Las Vegas) this weekend."

Only twice in MWC Tournament history has the No. 1 seed won the title. Why?

"It's tough. These teams are fighting for their lives, trying to get into the NCAA Tournament, and they're on the bubble," Fredette said. "They don't know if they're going to make it, so the best way to do it is by winning the championship. And it's hard. When you go into it as the No. 1 seed, you've won the conference and teams want to beat you. They want to take you out. They know it's their last shot this season for that team and they want to make their postseason dreams happen."

Junior Charles Abouo said winning the MWC Tournament is important.

"It's huge. It's my third year here, and we haven't gotten to the finals yet. We're excited," he said. "It's another chance for us to win another conference tournament. It's something we haven't done recently, and it's a huge goal of ours. We're excited to work towards it."

Cougars on the air

Thursday 1 p.m. MT, Thomas & Mack Center

Mountain West Conference Tournament quarterfinals

TV: The Mtn.

Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM

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