In the biggest game of the year, BYU's Fredette shows he's for real
PROVO, Utah -- The chant started up with about a minute left in the game, gathering timbre as the entire Marriott Center crowd took it up: "You got Jimmered!"
A few minutes later, after No. 9 BYU had sealed a hard-fought 71-58 win over No. 4 San Diego State, knocking the Aztecs from the ranks of the undefeated, the frenzy intensified. Swarms of white-clad students rushed the floor. The crush of people and cameras trying to get close to BYU senior JImmer Fredette was so suffocating that officials hustled Fredette to a place behind press row so he could enjoy the mayhem from a safe remove. Suddenly, a police officer appeared at his side.
THAT's when Jimmer Fredette graduated from folk hero to rock star.
"That was a little crazy," said Fredette later. "I had never experienced that before. It was cool ... but a little scary."
That's what you get when you score 43 points in the biggest, most-hyped regular-season game in school history (and the biggest one nationally so far this season).
The game didn't disappoint; it was close until the last four minutes. But ultimately, the Aztecs were just like just everyone else who has faced BYU this season: they didn't have answer for the Jimmer.
The Aztecs, the best defensive team in the conference, threw all sorts of defenders at Fredette, from D.J. Gay to Billy White to Chase Tapley, sometimes two at a time. The defensive pressure frequently forced him to change his mind in mid-air and pass instead of shoot (and he coughed up the ball four times) but he still filled the bucket. For one stretch starting midway through the second half, Fredette scored 24 of the Cougars' 27 points. Altogether Fredette made 14 of 24 shots, including five of eight from beyond the arc (often way beyond the arc). He did his best work in the lane, working hard to get off floaters and off-balance shots against a forest of long arms.
"He's a great player who knows how to get open shots," said sophomore forward Brandon Davies. "When he's hot like that all we do is crash the boards and get the ball to him."
San Diego coach Steve Fisher said Fredette is "as good a player as I have ever coached against. He is just sensational and extremely hard to guard. Fredette scored every time he got the ball there for a stretch."
Fredette, as his habit, gave all the credit to his teammates, praising them for "doing a great job setting screens for me." A difficult, double-clutch three-pointer he made in the second half that gave the Cougars a 50-46 lead and made at least one coach on the San Diego State bench double over like he had been kicked in the gut? That was "a little more luck than anything."
Teammates and good luck aside, with his performance Wednesday night, Fredette, whose 27.4 points a game leads the country, has put himself into a position to win a rare double: the scoring title and National Player of the Year award. Only two players, Bradley's Hersey Hawkins in 1988 and Purdue's Glenn Robinson in 1994, have won both the scoring title and a major national player of the year award since Pete Maravich did it in 1970.
Even though he doesn't have a vote, Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant made his opinion clear after the game when he tweeted, "Jimmer Fredette is the best scorer in the world!"
Remarkably Wednesday night marked only the second time Fredette has scored 30 or more at the Marriott Center. He usually saves those outbursts for the road. Of his 15 career games of 30 or more points, 13 have been away from the Marriot Center.
"Jimmer plays his best basketball mad," says his older brother, TJ. "He doesn't act out against anyone; you wouldn't think Jimmer is mad, but on the inside he is. When he is mad, he can really focus."
The Aztecs might want to think about that as they plot revenge in the rematch with the Cougars, on Feb. 26. In hostile arenas, there's where Fredette is REALLY dangerous.
Perhaps between now and then some opponent will figure out a way to stop him. As he moved through the crush of fans after the game, it was easy to see an scratch on his left arm that looked like he had encountered barbed wire. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.