DENVER – It’s no easy task defending BYU’s Jimmer Fredette, the nation’s top scorer.
It’s even tougher when Fredette and his teammates are highly motivated.
Fredette and the Cougars listened carefully as virtually every media pundit picked 11th-seeded Gonzaga to defeat No. 3 BYU prior to their third-round NCAA Tournament contest. Oddsmakers listed the Cougars as 1.5-point underdogs.
“We were aware of what’s going on and a lot of people picked Gonzaga,” said Fredette, after making seven 3-pointers and scoring 34 points to lead BYU to a surprisingly easy 89-67 win over the Bulldogs on Saturday at the Pepsi Center. “We didn’t really worry about it too much. We knew if we could put a good game together, we could get a win.
“We were definitely aware of it. That’s something we’ve handled this year.”
The BYU doubters grew louder after sophomore forward Brandon Davies was dismissed for violating the school’s Honor Code late in the regular season. BYU, now 5-2 without Davies, had no problem dismantling the Bulldogs.
“They played as good as we’ve seen them play since the Brandon situation,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “They were hitting on all cylinders.”
Fredette connected on 11 of 23 shots, including 7 of 12 3-pointers, a couple from the 26-27 foot range. He also had six assists.
“He’s unbelievable,” said Gonzaga’s Demetri Goodson, who opened the game defending Fredette, but picked up a couple of quick fouls. “Watching him on film and TV you wonder why people can’t hold him down and why he scores 30 a game, but he plays with such great freedom and he’s such a great shooter. If you back up off him he’ll pull it from almost half court. If you get up too close, he’ll drive by you.”
Steven Gray, Marquise Carter and Mike Hart also took turns defending Fredette.
“It’s tough when everything runs through him,” Gray said. “He seems like he’s in tip-top shape and you’re always having to change guys out to try to stay out of foul trouble.”
Gray picked up four fouls guarding Fredette, a couple when he was seemingly backpedaling to avoid contact.
“Tonight I guess they were (legitimate calls),” Gray said. “You have to give him credit for being able to sell it and get into a guy’s body, but it is a little frustrating.”
Gray, Gonzaga’s lone senior, scored 18 points and had seven assists in his final game as a Bulldog. Gray exits as one of GU’s most decorated players. He was All-WCC the last two seasons, honorable mention as a sophomore and All-Freshman team in 2008.
“It’s been a year full of ups and downs,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, from the lowest of the lows to the highest of the highs. We fought. We could have folded our season so long ago, but just to see this group rally and fight for each other. That’s the hardest part about this whole thing, to have it end.”
Gray said hopes to continue his career professionally, but his immediate plans are to get some rest and allow time for his body to heal up. He played a team-high 38 minutes Saturday. He logged 1,075 minutes this season (31.6 minutes per game).
“That’s why I’m so mad,” junior guard Demetri Goodson said. “I didn’t want him to go out like that.”
Carter, whose insertion into the starting lineup was one of the primary reasons for Gonzaga’s strong finishing kick to the season, had a miserable night. He was 0 of 6 from the field and didn’t score in 31 minutes. He did contribute five rebounds and four assists.
“Tough night for me,” said Carter, who led GU with 24 points in Thursday’s win over St. John’s. “That’s the thing that frustrates me, after playing the way I’ve been playing the last two months. To come out and just lay an egg and miss shots that I usually make. It’s a lesson to be learned. I definitely have to get better over the summer and we’ll definitely see BYU in the conference two times next year.”
Carter took a hard fall late in Thursday’s win, but said “my body’s good. I just couldn’t hit shots.”
He also wasn’t happy with his defense.
“A couple of times I got lost watching (Fredette) and seeing what he was going to do,” Carter said. “He’s a good all-around player, he can shoot from anywhere, he can go inside and he has a big enough body to finish. Great player, best wishes to their team.”
BYU’s 89 points was the second highest yielded by Gonzaga this season. San Francisco beat the Zags 96-91 in overtime. GU allowed 85 points, but beat Saint Mary’s in overtime. The Bulldogs also gave up 85 points to Santa Clara, 83 to Notre Dame and 81 to Kansas State and Washington State. They lost those four games.
The 22-point setback equaled the largest of the season (WSU 81-59).
“None of us saw this happening,” junior center Robert Sacre said. “I know I didn’t see it coming. It’s just hard, very hard.”