DENVER — Sweet 16 with a ton of sugar.
BYU advanced to the fourth round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday with a dominating 89-67 performance over West Coast Conference champion Gonzaga in the Pepsi Center before a crowd of 19,328.
It has been 30 years since BYU made this kind of trek in postseason.
You have to go back to when legendary Danny Ainge made that dramatic dash through Notre Dame in 1981 en route to the Elite Eight. This year, with All-America guard Jimmer Fredette, it was only fitting the guy considered the face of college basketball stamp his remarkable senior season with a Sweet 16 run after his school's three-decade absence.
"I think we had to play our best game in this situation," said BYU
coach Dave Rose.
And the Cougars certainly did.
BYU now plays No. 2 seed Florida in New Orleans on Thursday. The Cougars will bring in a 32-4 record, the best in school history.
And after a tumultuous three weeks, the important thing for Rose and his team is the confidence his team appears to have regained.
"It was a game where we knew that, you know, we had to play together," said Rose. "We had to play with confidence. We had to play on attack. I thought for 40 minutes we might have been as good as we've been all year."
Fredette scored a spectacular 34 points. He displayed his uncanny range. He attacked Gonzaga's defense off the dribble and kicked out to his teammates.
It was a "Jimmer Show."
But BYU's victory over future WCC rival came because of the execution from his teammates. Gonzaga was a bigger team with more depth. On Thursday Gonzaga killed St. John's from the feared Big East. Those factors led to many national experts predicting before tipoff Gonzaga would end BYU's run and Fredette's college career.
It was not to be.
BYU's Denver performance capped a two-game NCAA appearance in which Rose's team defeated conference champions Wofford and Gonzaga, who came to Denver with a combined 18-game win streak and conference tournament championships. The Cougars outscored Wofford and Gonzaga by 30 points.
BYU defeated the Zags because Fredette's "role playing" teammates won Oscars.
The Cougars came out gunning and used their patented outside shooting attack and transition game to run past the Zags. Fredette led the way with 7-of-12 3-pointers. But Noah Hartsock, who made just two from distance since BYU's win at San Diego State on Feb. 26, was 3-for-3 from 3-point land and finished with 13 points. Jackson Emery added three treys in eight attempts for 16 points.
Gonzaga tried to pound the ball at the smaller Cougars, who looked scary defensively with Hartsock and Charles Abouo on the bench in foul trouble minutes after tipoff.
This was when reserve center James Anderson and reserve forward Logan Magnusson joined a third reserve, Stephen Rodgers, in clamping down on the Zags' interior attack.
Jackson Emery, who combined with freshman Kyle Collinsworth for three steals each, ran at Gonzaga's big men and disrupted shot after shot.
While Gonzaga kept attacking BYU inside, the Cougars kept knocking down outside shots on one end while swarming all over Gonzaga's big post players Robert Sacre and Elias Harris.
The Zag game plan to attack BYU in the paint may have left their outside shooters too cold to get in a shootout with the Cougars.
Gonzaga made just 2-of-9 from beyond the arc and as BYU race to leads of 20 points or more, the WCC team could not answer at BYU's pace, an impressive 14-of-28 from beyond the 3-point line. That effort was one off BYU's season best of 15 on the road against Air Force and marked the 11th time BYU made at least 10 3-pointers.
"They were falling tonight," said Fredette. "Sometimes that happens. You have off nights, then you come back and have good nights. Kind of the law of percentages."
In the end, CBS sports put the Cougars on prime time Thursday and Saturday, primarily because of the Jimmer factor.
In turn, Fredette delivered with 66 points, some of them dazzling, many from shots that highlight videos will show are the longest field-goals attempts tried and made in the tournament.
Sweet 16 time for the Cougars?
Rack it. Done.