LAS VEGAS — After laboring to dispatch No. 9 seeded TCU Thursday afternoon in the Mountain West Conference quarterfinals, BYU now awaits an even tougher challenge.
The top-seeded, and No. 8 ranked, Cougars (29-3) escaped the Thomas & Mack Center with a 64-58 victory over the Horned Frogs, setting up a semifinal game tonight (7 p.m., CBS-C) with No. 4 seeded New Mexico, which defeated Colorado State, 67-61.
The Lobos (21-11) swept the season series against BYU, including an 82-64 win in Provo last Wednesday, and are the only MWC team to beat the Cougars this season. UNM has won four consecutive games against BYU.
"In the last couple of years, they haven't lost too many games outside of us," said Lobo coach Steve Alford. "I don't know if we know that secret. It's just kind of been fortunate it's happened that way."
After Thursday's hard-fought win, the Cougars were just happy to still be playing.
"We got the win," said guard Jimmer Fredette. "That's really what matters. We keep moving forward. It's one-and-done. I'm just proud of my teammates, how we battled, and found a way to win, even though we didn't play very well."
TCU coach Jim Christian hatched a plan to upset BYU, and for much of the game, that plan worked as the Frogs controlled the pace and implemented a zone defense against a Cougar team that loves to run and score in transition.
BYU shot an ice-cold 6-of-23 from 3-point range and held to one of their lowest scoring performances of the season.
With 22.7 seconds left in the game, TCU trailed by only two points, with a chance to shock the Cougars. But in the end, BYU eked out the victory.
"The pace of the game was pretty slow. It was dictated by TCU," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "We got a little impatient at time offensively. But for the most part, we got good shots. We just were in a little bit of a hurry. I think a lot of that had to do with the pace defensively. We were on defense a long time."
"We knew coming in we had to try to control tempo as best we can," Christian said. "The game was in the 60s, so we couldn't have done a much better job of that."
Fredette and Jackson Emery combined to shoot 10-of-34 from the floor. Fredette finished with a game-high 24 points.
"We didn't shoot the ball as well from the 3-point line as well as we're capable of," Rose said. "(The game) was about grinding it out, finding a way to win without hitting your comfortable shots that you normally hit."
Fredette knocked down only 4-of-11 shots from 3-point range. Emery was 1-of-8.
The Cougars know they can ill-afford to be mired in a shooting slump at this time of year.
"We know we're good shooters and we're going to come ready to go (tonight)," Emery said. "Jimmer and I, we didn't shoot the ball very well (against TCU). Usually it's one of us that's shooting really well, but when you have both of us not shooting very well it can really hurt us as a team because the other guys depend on us to hit shots so they can get open, create and do what they can do really well."
TCU took a one-point lead, 34-33, at halftime after hitting seven 3-pointers, before the Cougars scored seven straight points to open the second half.
"We tried to get it going to start that second half," Rose said. "We got a little bit of a lead, then we had some open shots and missed. (TCU) did a good job of coming back."
Fredette put BYU up 50-44 with 7:30 remaining — it marked his first basket of the second half — and with 1:30 left, Fredette hit a 3-pointer to give the Cougars a 58-50 advantage.
But TCU refused to go down quietly. Frog guard Greg Hill drained back-to-back 3-pointers. On one of those, he also drew a foul and completed a four-point play. At that point, BYU led 60-58 with 22.7 seconds left in the game.
The Cougars played tough defense from there — Emery, the MWC defensive player of the year, blocked a Hank Thorns shot with six seconds remaining — and Fredette and Emery drilled two free throws apiece to seal the hard-fought win.
"To be able to finish the game like we did, hit a few free throws, win the game, we're excited to move forward," Rose said.