NEW ORLEANS — When BYU earned a dramatic 99-92 double-overtime victory over Florida in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament one year ago, it was, among other things, a preview of one of this year's Sweet 16 matchups.
The No. 3-seeded Cougars and No. 2-seeded Gators tangle again Thursday (5:27 p.m., MT, TBS) with a coveted spot in the Elite Eight at stake.
"We know what to expect. It's pretty much the same team," said BYU guard Jackson Emery. "Obviously, they've gotten better, but we know what kind of game to expect as far as their physicality and the energy they're going to bring. At the same time, it's tough. We beat them so they're going to have a chip on their shoulder. Hopefully, we match their energy because it is the Sweet 16. It's a big game, and we know they're going to be ready to play."
For BYU, the 2010 game was historic — its first NCAA Tournament win in 17 years. For Florida, it was its first trip to the NCAAs after going to the NIT for two straight seasons.
While the Gators return all five starters from that loss to the Cougars, they're a much better version of themselves now.
"They're better because they're more experienced. They've played together now for two years," said Cougar guard Jimmer Fredette. "They've won two games in the NCAA Tournament and they're used to winning. They've been in a lot of close games and they know how to win close games. Their guards are improved and their big guys are tough down low. They're just a good team."
"You're basically looking at the same team, one year older and one year more experience," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "They have a lot more wins. Consistently throughout this year, they have found ways to close out games and win games. They played a lot of close games last year and weren't able to win as many games. I think they feel confident in their ability to close games out."
In last year's 50-minute clash in Oklahoma City, the Gators had opportunities to defeat the Cougars, but couldn't do it. For example, forward Chandler Parsons, who was the Southeastern Conference's player of the year this year, missed a shot at the buzzer that could have won the game. Instead, his miss sent the contest into overtime.
The game was also a harbinger of things to come, as Fredette exploded for 37 points and emerged on the national scene. Florida unwittingly made Fredette a star.
How will the Gators defend him this time around?
"They're going to be really tenacious. They'll probably double-team me and try to get the ball out of my hands," Fredette said. "They'll be more aware of our team after playing us once. I don't think they'll do anything too drastic. They know we've got a good team and they can't leave other guys wide open."
"They're so versatile in their ability to defend. They have three or four guys that they can put on (Fredette)," Rose said. "And they have really good size. They'll use their strength and quickness against him. For Jimmer, it's a matter of getting a feel for how they're going to attack him. The rest of our players need to read and react to that and make shots."
Meanwhile, the Cougars have a much different look compared to last year.
Guard Michael Loyd, who scored 26 points off the bench against Florida last year, has transferred; Jonathan Tavernari and Chris Miles have graduated; and Tyler Haws is now on a mission. And, of course, BYU is without Brandon Davies, who was suspended for an Honor Code violation.
Last year aside, the Cougars, after last weekend's 22-point victory over Gonzaga, are getting their swagger back going into this rematch with Florida.
"I guess you could say we lost some of our swagger, or you could say in a sense that we had to re-identify ourselves and find who we were with this bunch of guys," Emery said. "I mean, you lose one guy, it shouldn't affect the whole team. But I think it did mentally for us, and we just had to figure out how we were going to implement the other guys and the different strategies. I think we went through different phases in different games where we felt like it, then we didn't feel like it. I feel like the last game, everyone was just comfortable playing basketball and I think today in practice was kind of the same thing, and I hope we continue this all week."
For the Gators, almost all the same players who contributed last season against BYU are back — Kenny Boynton (27 points), Parsons (20), Vernon Macklin (16), Erving Walker (12), and Alex Tyus (6).
"We've seen them play a lot this year on ESPN," Fredette said. "The game film from last year will definitely help us out. They're all improved players, so you can't just go off of last year's film. But we know their tendencies and what they like to do."
NCAA Southeast Regional semifinals
No. 3 BYU (32-4) vs. No. 3 Florida (28-7)
Thursday, 5:27 p.m.
New Orleans Arena
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
email: [email protected]