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Gaels' talented guards aren't afraid of BYU's Jimmer-less lineup

Published: Monday, March 12 2012 9:32 p.m. MDT

DAYTON, Ohio — Iona's guards will come at BYU in waves.

They're fast, confident and hungry.

They believe they can rocket past defenders and make shots off the dribble. They pass unselfishly and love to put up 3-point shots whenever the itch needs itching.

They're the engine that runs the nation's No. 1 offense, quarterbacked by the country's leading assist man in senior Scott Machado.

They respect BYU, but they do not fear the Cougars.

That's the feeling you get around No. 14 seed Iona (25-7) as they prepare to play No. 14 BYU (25-8) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the University of Dayton Arena where President Barack Obama will be present to kick off the Big Dance.

Lamont Jones, a transfer from Arizona who has played BYU twice, knows the Cougars like to play up-tempo just like the Gaels. But he says Iona's pace is not BYU's pace.

"I've played against them twice," said Jones, who lost both games while at Arizona. "I don't think they play nearly as fast as we do. I think we still have a speed advantage on them. I think if we can do what we do every day and just, like I said, maintain the focus at hand, we'll be OK."

The Gaels average 83 points a game, first in the nation in points scored. The Cougars are ranked 13th, just under 79 points a game.

The key for the Gaels is to push the ball and shoot and they use several point guards on the floor at the same time, including pass magician Machado.

"We probably have five or six guys who can really knock down the 3, and they're also extremely willing to share the ball," said Iona coach Tim Cluess.

"We put several point guards on the court at the same time, sometimes two, sometimes three; occasionally we've had four out there together."

The key, said Cluess, is how his squad shares the ball. It makes it so a defense can't key on one given player and the Gaels like to spread out defenses and let 6-foot-7 senior forward Mike Glover go one-on-one inside the paint.

"Because of how we share the ball, it enables us to play against teams of more size and we do pressure the ball well. I don't know if that will be effective against BYU or not because they are a good ball-handling team."

Cluess told reporters Monday afternoon he is familiar with the Cougars, watched them a lot last year and this season and his associations go back to the Danny Ainge era when he was a player at St. John's University.

"They are a heck of a basketball team," said Cluess.

Jones told Cluess he'd try and do a better job on defense than he did the last two times he played against the Cougars. "He guarded Jimmer Fredette and gave up 40 and 50."

"That sticks out like a sore thumb," said Jones. The rest of it was kind of a blur."

Jones is astute enough to know BYU is a different team without Fredette. "But they still have Brandon Davies and (Noah) Hartsock, which are two great players."

"More than half of their points came from him (Fredette). Now it's a team where they spread out the points, and they've got different players that contribute to their success this year. And we can't look any of that off. It is a totally different team, but, like I said before, it's the NCAA Tournament, and it's basketball. Everybody can play."

If the Cougars are to keep up with the Gaels, they'll need to match their treys, play defense and rebound.

Jones says if Iona plays its style of game, the Gaels will be OK — even if he hasn't seen BYU play.

"I think we can hang with them. I haven't really watched them much this year. We just have to play Iona basketball and not really worry about what BYU brings or what happened two years ago, a year prior. We just have to go in there and this is a new team and this is a new day."

On Tuesday night, a ton depends on guard play and the biggest question marks are on BYU's side of the ledger.

The Cougars have to avoid getting done in by shooters.

The last time they played, just one, Gonzaga's Kevin Pangos, was more than enough to get the job done.

email: dharmon@desnews.com

TWITTER: Harmonwrites

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