OKLAHOMA CITY — BYU finally ended the 17-year drought at the NCAAs, but its victory over first round opponent Florida was like pushing a camel through a key hole.
With 10 seconds left and Florida coach Billy Donovan screamed at his team: "No more fouls, no more fouls," and BYU dribbler, Jimmer Fredette, gratefully looked at the clock tick down. His face cracked into a grin as wide as the prairie.
BYU dispatched Florida of the SEC 99-92 and as head coach Dave Rose put it, "We needed all 99 points."
The Cougars then celebrated harder than any BYU team had a right to do since 1993 in Chicago after beating SMU.
"You should have seen it in the locker room," said senior Chris Miles. "We went nuts in here, crazy."
"It was like Steve Young, finally getting that Super Bowl win," said athletic director Tom Holmoe.
And they should have let loose. They'd come out scared, taken control, lost control and regained control to finally put a shoe on the Gators in a thrilling, dramatic made-for-TV game.
At several stages of the game, BYU players felt a familiar pain in the gut.
They were blowing it, choking.
The Cougars blew a 13-point lead, witnessed Florida score six three-point plays in seven straight possessions and survived two failed game-winning shots by Gator Chandler Parsons.
BYU scratched, clawed, found a hero in Michael Loyd before riding star Fredette when, as if queue in by a TV producer, buried a pair of dagger bombs in the final 2:38 of the second overtime.
"Our guys could have packed it in but they didn't, none of them didn't," said assistant John Wardenburg.
It was only fitting BYU's only 30-win team end to the Cougar famine at this event.
While Fredette ripped off 37 points without getting an old-fashioned three-point play on his patented drives, the story of this game was a familiar late-season role by Loyd, who electrified the Ford Arena with 10 points in two minutes just before half to lift a sputtering BYU team to a 35-33 lead at intermission.
Loyd, sporting a mohawk and a little chin fuzz, looked like a character out of video game.
The Cougars had fallen behind 28-24 before Loyd turned into Iron Man and rocketed past Florida defenders on two drives and a pair of lightning treys.
Settled into the favored role, Dave Rose watched his squad take a 59-46 lead at the 9:16 mark on a 3-pointer by Jackson Emery. But Florida then scored at will on the Cougars with Kenny Boynton dropping three bombs to tied the game at 68. It then became a slugfest through regulation two overtimes.
But like the gamer he is, Fredette delivered the hammer on Florida with back-to back treys in the second overtime. The second was an elevated jumper from 26 feet out over 6-foot-10 center Vernon Macklin and it put BYU comfortably up 93-84 with a couple of minutes till jump on backs time.
"As a guy who has to come out and cover shooters like that, I know what it's like and you wouldn't want anybody but Jimmer to make that shot," said Miles.
But even Fredette's highlight shots had to come after he had the ball stolen from him by Kenney Walker in the first overtime with 18-seconds left in backcourt and the game tied at 81.
"You know," said Fredette, "It was our time."
Fredette's outside shot wasn't working most the game and he looked fatigued, tired and was huffing and puffing in the third overtime after drive after drive inside Florida's defense. But when Florida's man assigned to lasso Fredette, Boynton, fouled out early in the final overtime, the Cougar star got the polish out.
"You are playing for your life," said Fredette. "At that point, you're doing it on adrenaline."
In the locker room afterwards the Cougars jumped around like bowling pins and coach Dave Rose was in the thick of it. After a media horde worked its way through BYU players and thinned out, Jonathan Tavernari, Charles Abouo started posing as reporters using baloney sandwiches and cell phones as microphones.
The Cougars will have a huge challenge in facing Kansas State on Saturday but Dave Rose allowed a well-earned celebration here before he took to the next task.
"I'm proud of our guys," said Rose. "This was a long time coming."
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