Woody Paige: BYU basketball: Jimmer shimmers for Sweet 16 Cougars

Published: Sunday, March 20 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

Gonzaga University had more points in the paint, more offensive rebounds, more defensive rebounds, more assists and more slammer-jammers.

"BYU had more Jimmer," an official of the Zags' athletic department sighed after the demolition was complete Saturday night in the NCAAs.

Early on, Gonzaga bull-dogged BYU star Jimmer Fredette, utilizing different defenders and different defenses. The Zags held the nation's leading scorer scoreless for 9 minutes, 36 seconds.

Then, brusquely, Jimmer showed the Zags what they could do with their modus and their operandi.

Made no difference.

BYU had more Jimmer and more glimmer, particularly in the second half, to shoot Gonzaga out of the gymmer.

In two tournament games in Denver, Jimmer scored 68.

"Fredetteabout-it," the signs said.

Before 19,328 NCAA fanatics — a majority from neighboring Utah, where BYU is located — the young man with a plan has proven he can play in the postseason, and the Cougars, who endured the turmoil of a suspension of their top rebounder, showed they would not be bracketed early like so many other high seeds.

"Believe it or not, I felt like we defended (Fredette) OK. ... But, you know, I mean, he got 34 on 23 shots," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.

Fredette made seven 3-pointers, five more than Gonzaga. And his teammates made another seven.

Not since the Osmonds has such an impressive group come out of Utah.

All this from a team whose season almost fell apart.

BYU was rising toward a potential No. 1 ranking late in the season when forward Brandon Davies was banned from playing the rest of the season for violating the BYU honor code. Like millions of young men and women in college, he succumbed to consensual sexual temptation. But the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a strict policy and stuck to it.

Practically every university except BYU would have shrugged, said, "So what?" and moved on with Davies.

But, even at the risk of its basketball team not getting a No. 1 seed or doing a fast fade in the NCAA Tournament, the school stuck to its moral principles. The Cougars did falter down the stretch, losing twice in their final five games and bowing in the final of the Mountain West Conference tournament.

BYU plummeted to a No. 3 seed.

The Cougars got a good draw, however, being sent to Denver, less than a day's travel by car from Provo, an advantage for their loyalists, and at an altitude even higher than their hometown, which to them is a home-court advantage.

With Davies sitting on the BYU bench in street clothes, the Cougars busted Wofford, then Gonzaga, running at altitude, playing in front of their faithful.

There's a moral to this story. And there's a Jimmer of hope to this story.

It was certain that Fredette, the Wild West shooter, would be the focal point of opposing coaches and players. Gonzaga tried four separate players on Jimmer, and sometimes surrounded him with four on the same trip down the court, anything to get him out of his comfort zone. In both games, Jimmer struggled out of the tunnel. The defensive philosophy succeeded for a while in Denver but couldn't entirely.

Late in the first half Saturday night, The Jimmer popped a 3-pointer, then, seconds later, cracked another. And the rout was on.

Gonzaga is no pushover bunch you never heard of, but Jimmer and the Jimmettes took them to task from beyond the arc when the full moon outside was at its brightest of the year and the Cougars were at their brightest of the season.

"They played as good as we've seen them since, you know, the Brandon situation," Few said. "They were hitting on all cylinders. ... You have to pick your poison. When you got a guy who can get 50, he creates a lot of help situation. Those other guys have not been shooting the basketball as well as they shot it tonight."

The Cougars were well aware that they had been downgraded lately, and Gonzaga was even favored by a point.

"It's just a matter of believing in ourselves," Fredette said. "I think that we're still a very, very good team. I've been telling everybody that all along."

As a kid, Jimmer idolized John Stockton, who was in the crowd. He stuck Stockton's kid, David, for a couple of 3-pointers. It might have been somewhat unfair. David is 5-foot-11 and actually weighs 142 pounds, but the school's sports information director acknowledged he fudged "and decided to get him to a buck-50."

The Zags converted only 2-of-9 from beyond the 3-point line.

And they couldn't covert Jimmer into a loser.

He wasn't less. He was more.

Woody Paige is a sports columnist for The Denver Post. He can be reached at WPaige@denverpost.com.

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