BYU basketball: Cougars pull away late, down Wofford 74-66 for NCAA tournament win
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
DENVER — Clinging to a slim four-point halftime lead, and shooting a woeful 4-of-15 from 3-point territory, No. 3-seeded BYU took a different approach in the second half against No. 14 Wofford.
Guard Jimmer Fredette and his teammates pounded the ball inside as the Cougars scored on a flurry of layups, and played solid defense, then pulled away late from the tenacious Terriers in a 74-66 victory Thursday night in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament at the Pepsi Center.
"I was able to get to the basket, make some layups, get the lead up a little bit, get a cushion," said Fredette, who scored a game-high 32 points and recorded a game-high seven assists.
With the win, BYU (31-4) advances to the round of 32, where it will face Gonzaga. The two teams meet Saturday, with a berth in the Sweet 16 in New Orleans at stake.
Despite their troubles with Wofford, the Cougars are just happy to advance.
"We toughed it out," Fredette said. "We played really hard. We scrapped. I'm just glad we're able to live another day, go out and play on Saturday."
Earlier Thursday, on the same Pepsi Center floor, No. 4-seeded Louisville and No. 5 Vanderbilt both fell to double-digit seeds.
BYU wasn't about to become the third straight upset victim.
"I saw there was two upsets. We realized that," Fredette said. "Being a basketball guy, I just love to watch basketball games. I was watching them all morning, seeing what was going on. That's what we wanted to be (leery) of. We knew there were a lot of upsets around the country. Teams are going to come out and fight to the death, especially teams with seniors. They don't want to lose, they want to keep playing and keep their hopes alive."
"I think we used it as motivation," said senior forward Logan Magnusson, who came off the bench to score 10 points and grab seven rebounds. "I know a lot of the guys saw it and said, 'Let's not let that happen to us.' "
Early on, Wofford, which starts four seniors and is one of the nation's best shooting teams, not only hung with the Cougars, but took a four-point lead, 25-21, with less than six minutes remaining in the half. BYU rallied to go up, 30-25, after Fredette hit his first 3-pointer of the game with 2:30 left. The Cougars led at intermission, 33-29, after Fredette buried another 3-pointer with 30 seconds remaining.
At that point, though, BYU was shooting just 34 percent from the floor.
"Sometimes the shots just weren't falling," Fredette said.
Then, in the second half, Fredette drove to the hoop, either scoring or dishing the ball near the basket as the Cougars built a 48-41 advantage. "I just kept battling, playing my game, being aggressive," said Fredette, who was 10-of-25 from the floor and 2-of-9 from 3-point range. "They were double-teaming me a lot out top, especially ball screens. I was trying to get my teammates involved."
Terrier guard Jamar Diggs praised Fredette for his play.
"He's a great player, a great scorer," Diggs said. "You see the numbers he put up. Up for national player of the year. Felt like we did a decent job on him, but not good enough. Guarding him, probably one of the toughest guys I guarded in my career. But he's a pretty good scorer."
BYU coach Dave Rose said BYU going inside in the second half was "probably a natural progression. We have a lot of confidence in our guys to make shots. We were getting open looks and a couple guys missed a few. They wanted to drive the ball to the basket because guys, defensively, they come and close really hard on you, so you have an opportunity to beat them."
With Charles Abouo sitting on the bench with four fouls, Magnusson knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers as the Cougars maintained their eight-point edge.
BYU increased its lead to as many as 14 with three minutes remaining and sealed the victory by hitting 13-of-14 free throws down the stretch.
Wofford, like BYU, shot just 39.3 percent for the game. The Terriers were 4-of-19 (21 percent) from distance, well below their 41 percent average for the season.
"They're a great 3-point shooting team and I thought we put some pressure on them from that aspect," Rose said.
"Just one of those nights when the shots weren't falling," said Terrier forward Noah Dahlman, who scored 22 points and had nine rebounds. "We've had nights like that all year. Unfortunately, shots don't go your way. It's a bad time for it to happen, but at the same time, you just got to keep playing through it."
Noah Hartsock was big for BYU in the first half, knocking down two 3-pointers. He finished with 10 points and five rebounds. Abouo also scored 10 points, including eight in a row in a three-minute stretch in the second half.
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