February 26, 2011

Winners and losers: BYU stakes claim

It's time to stop thinking of BYU as a one-man team and time to start thinking of the Cougars as a potential No. 1 seed.

BYU took over sole possession of first place in the Mountain West Conference on Saturday with an 80-67 victory at San Diego State. The Cougars (27-2 overall, 13-1 in the Mountain West) were 14-of-24 from 3-point range to silence a boisterous San Diego State crowd.

"It's a huge game," BYU guard Jimmer Fredette told reporters afterward. "Obviously two top-10 teams at their place, they have not lost at home. Everyone was picking San Diego State to win, so we were coming in kind of as the underdogs. We realized that and knew we were going to have to battle to get that win. I thought our team did a great job of just making shots and getting rebounds, getting loose balls, doing the things that we needed to do. That's why it was an emotional win.''

The last time BYU faced San Diego State, Fredette made the transition from regional folk hero to national celebrity, scoring 43 points - his second consecutive game with 40-plus points - as BYU won 71-58 to hand San Diego State its first loss of the season.

Fredette showed off his ridiculous range again Saturday by collecting 25 points and nine assists in a performance that cemented his status as the front-runner for all the national player of the year awards. But the rematch also served notice that the nation's leading scorer isn't the Cougars' only weapon.

Although Fredette was just 8-of-23 from the floor, his teammates went a combined 19-of-35. Fredette was 4-of-8 from 3-point range, while the rest of the Cougars were 10-of-16 from beyond the arc.

Fredette was one of four players in double figures. Charles Abouo shot 4-of-5 from 3-point range and finished with 18 points and nine rebounds. Noah Hartsock scored 15 points and was 3-of-4 on 3-pointers. Jackson Emery added 13 points.

"We have guys that can make shots, especially when they are open," Fredette said. "A lot of times, they were double-teaming me and I was getting [my teammates] the ball, and they were wide open, so they are going to make shots if they are wide open. That was the key.''

That kind of teamwork could help BYU land a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

While it might seem unusual for a team from outside the six major conferences to earn a No. 1 seed, it happens more often than you might think. St. Joseph's of the Atlantic 10 captured a No. 1 seed in 2004. Conference USA member Memphis earned No. 1 seeds in 2006 and 2008. BYU could make it happen for the fourth time in eight seasons.

Most mock brackets this weekend had Duke, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Kansas and Texas competing for the four No. 1 seeds, though Texas hurt its cause Saturday by losing 91-89 to Colorado. Duke also fell, at Virginia Tech on Saturday night, though the loss won't hurt Duke as much as Texas' loss hurt the Longhorns. BYU has a comparable resume to each of those teams.

Consider that BYU has won by 13 points in each of its two meetings with San Diego State, which hasn't lost to anyone else all season.

BYU has eight wins over teams that began the weekend in the top 50 of the RPI, the same number as Pittsburgh. BYU has more wins over top-50 teams than Duke, Kansas, Ohio State and Texas.

The Cougars entered the day third in the RPI, while San Diego State was fourth. And even though the MWC isn't one of the six major conferences, its league RPI this season ranks fourth - ahead of the ACC, SEC and Pac-10.

"This is a really good basketball team," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "I hope people across the country got to see that this is really a very good team with a couple of really special players on it. But you know, by our RPI and by this conference's RPI and our record in the league, we should get some pretty good consideration. We have got lots of games to play though. Seriously, I don't really think about it. The only time I actually think about seeding is when guys ask me.''

If nothing else, the Cougars clearly have shown they're the best team in the Mountain West. Conventional wisdom this week suggested San Diego State (27-2, 12-2) could contend for a No. 1 seed if it won its rematch with BYU, but the Cougars led this game almost the entire way.

While BYU was shooting 58 percent from 3-point range, San Diego State continually was misfiring from the paint. San Diego State pulled down 15 offensive rebounds, but BYU actually outscored San Diego State 9-7 in second-chance points because the Aztecs continually missed short putback attempts.

San Diego State also failed to respond when BYU went to a zone defense in the second half.

"I told our team, 'BYU is Final Four good,' '' San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. "And I don't know that our guys liked to hear that. And then I said, 'We are, too.' Today, they were the better team. And they were. No excuses. They made plays. They made shots.''

BYU's victory in the most anticipated game of the day made the Cougars the biggest winners in Saturday's action. Here's a recap of all the day's winners and losers.


St. John's G Dwight Hardy: We have a front-runner in the race for Big East player of the year. Hardy, a senior, scored a career-high 34 points Saturday as St. John's continued its late-season surge with an 81-68 victory at Villanova. Hardy has averaged 26.4 points over his past seven games.

Colorado Gs Alec Burks and Levi Knutson: Burks scored 33 points and Knutson added 21 as Colorado rallied from a 22-point deficit to deliver a 91-89 upset of No. 5 Texas.

Kentucky at Rupp Arena: The Wildcats have encountered all kinds of problems on the road this season, but they've been unbeatable on their home floor. Kentucky's 76-68 victory over Florida marked its 33rd consecutive home victory, including its 14th this season.

Michigan G Tim Hardaway Jr.: The freshman with the familiar name continued his red-hot shooting by going 5-of-8 from 3-point range and scoring 22 points in Michigan's 70-63 victory over fading Minnesota that kept the Wolverines' NCAA tournament hopes alive. Hardaway has gone 14-of-22 from beyond the arc over his past three games and has averaged 22.7 points during that stretch.

Kansas' Morris twins: Marcus Morris had 23 points and nine rebounds in Kansas' 82-70 triumph over Oklahoma. Markieff Morris provided 19 points and 10 rebounds.

Missouri State: The Bears won a 69-64 thriller over Wichita State to capture their first Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title in their 21st season as a league member. Missouri State was the last Valley school without a regular-season conference championship.

Syracuse G Scoop Jardine: After scoring in double figures just once during a six-game stretch, Jardine has heated up in his past two contests. He scored 20 points Monday in a 69-64 win at Villanova and had 17 points and seven assists Saturday in a 58-51 triumph at Georgetown.

UCLA F Reeves Nelson: Don't hand the Pac-10 regular-season title to Arizona just yet. Nelson's 27 points and 16 rebounds helped UCLA trounce Arizona 71-49 to force a tie for first place in the Pac-10 standings. It was Arizona's second loss in three days.

Boston College G Reggie Jackson: As Jackson goes, so go the Eagles. Jackson shot a combined 10-of-33 and totaled four assists during back-to-back losses to North Carolina and Miami. He ended his slump by going 10-of-16 from the floor, scoring 25 points and dishing out four assists in a 63-44 rout at Virginia that resuscitated the Eagles' NCAA tournament at-large hopes.

Kansas State: The Wildcats got themselves back into serious NCAA tournament at-large consideration with their Valentine's Day blowout of Kansas. The Wildcats have just about locked up a bid by following up that season-changing win with victories over Oklahoma, Nebraska and Missouri. Jacob Pullen continued his late-season tear Saturday by scoring 24 points in 24 minutes - going over the 2,000-point mark for his career - against Mizzou. K-State also proved it's more than a one-man show by clinching its 80-70 victory while Pullen was on the bench with four fouls.

UW Milwaukee: Butler is the defending NCAA runner-up. Cleveland State got some time in the national spotlight this season because of Norris Cole's emergence. Valparaiso led the Horizon League standings for much of the season. But none of those teams will be the top seed in the Horizon tournament. That honor instead goes to Milwaukee, which clinched its status with a 94-87 overtime victory over Youngstown State. That means UWM will play each of its conference tournament games on its home floor.

Butler: Although the Bulldogs didn't earn the top seed in the Horizon tourney, they did beat Loyola (Ill.) 63-56 to finish in a three-way tie for first place in the league standings with UW Milwaukee and Cleveland State. This marks the fifth strconsecutive season Butler has won at least a share of the Horizon's regular-season title. Butler gradually climbed its way from the middle of the standings by winning its last seven regular-season games. Butler's latest win came after Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens left the game late in the first half with corneal edema, described as an inflammation of the cornea.

UTEP's Randy Culpepper and Jeremy Williams: The Memphis natives combined for 34 points to lead UTEP to a 74-47 rout of Memphis. Culpepper scored 20 points and Williams added 14 points as Memphis lost in El Paso for the first time since 1971.

Vanderbilt (in the second half): For the first half of its game with LSU, Vanderbilt acted as if it hadn't recovered from its collapse against Tennessee four days earlier. But the Commodores quickly erased a two-point halftime deficit and outscored LSU 49-26 in the second half for a 90-69 triumph. Lance Goulbourne finished with 16 points and 17 rebounds to spark the comeback.

Evansville G Colt Ryan: Ryan, a 6-5 sophomore, made the final game at Roberts Stadium one to remember. Ryan's 32 points helped Evansville defeat Illinois State 73-67 in the Purple Aces' last game at the 55-year-old facility.

Virginia Tech's defense: Virginia Tech was just 8-of-19 from the line and star guard Malcolm Delaney managed only 11 points against visiting Duke. So how did the Hokies deliver a 64-60 victory over the top-ranked Blue Devils? The credit belongs to a defense that limited Duke to nine points and three baskets over the last 11 minutes. Virginia Tech's defensive intensity over those final 11 minutes greatly boosted the Hokies' NCAA tournament hopes.

ACC bubble teams: Assuming that Duke and North Carolina are the only ACC teams that already had locked up spots in the NCAA tournament, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Boston College and Clemson had much to prove Saturday. All four teams won. Now the pressure shifts to Maryland, which travels to North Carolina on Sunday.

Illinois' seniors: The senior trio of Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale and Demetri McCamey has received plenty of criticism during the Illini's recent slump, but all three delivered big performances in an 81-68 victory over Iowa. Tisdale was 10-of-14 from the field and scored 25 points. Davis provided 20 points and nine rebounds. McCamey added 18 points and seven assists with only two turnovers.

Gonzaga: The Zags buried San Diego 68-31 to clinch at least a share of their 11th consecutive West Coast Conference regular-season championship.

Baylor: The Bears kept their NCAA tournament hopes alive by stepping up their defense in a 58-51 victory over Texas A&M to complete a regular-season sweep of the Aggies.

Mississippi State G Dee Bost and C Wendell Lewis: Tobias Harris had just dunked to give Tennessee a one-point lead over Mississippi State when Bost drove through traffic - he might have traveled - and found Lewis under the basket for a game-winning dunk with 3.4 seconds left in the Bulldogs' 70-69 triumph.

Princeton: The Tigers moved back into the Ivy League lead by beating Columbia 66-61 for their 11th win in their past 12 games. Princeton (22-5 overall, 10-1 in the Ivy) is a half-game ahead of Harvard (21-5, 10-2), which had a six-game winning streak snapped with a 70-69 loss to Yale. Princeton travels to Harvard on March 5. The Ivy League doesn't have a postseason tournament, so the regular-season champion earns an automatic NCAA tournament bid.

UAB: The Blazers reached the 20-win mark for the fourth consecutive season and moved into sole possession of the Conference USA lead with a 68-55 victory over Houston. UAB (20-7 overall, 10-4 in Conference USA) began the day in a three-way tie for first with Memphis and Southern Miss, who both lost Saturday.

Richmond: Men's senior G Kevin Anderson and women's senior G Brittani Shells each had 1,989 career points entering play Saturday. Anderson scored 20 as the Spiders whipped Charlotte 72-59, and Shells had 17 in a 68-57 win over Saint Louis.

UCLA G Tyler Trapani: Trapani, the great-grandson of UCLA coaching legend John Wooden, scored the final basket of a 71-49 victory over Arizona that concluded the Bruins' home schedule. It's only fitting that a Wooden descendant produced the final two points at Pauley Pavilion before the venerable facility undergoes a renovation.


Texas: The Longhorns finally are showing their youth as they fell to an inferior opponent on the road for a second consecutive weekend. After shooting 19-of-34 in the first half while building a 22-point lead, Texas went just 10-of-34 in the second half of its loss to Colorado. The Longhorns also continued their season-long struggle with free throws by going 20-of-34 from the line. Any hope for a No. 1 NCAA seed is just about gone.

Georgetown (without Chris Wright): Georgetown didn't have its usual offensive efficiency in its first full game without starting PG Chris Wright, whose streak of 93 consecutive starts ended after he broke his left hand Wednesday in a 58-46 loss to Cincinnati. Georgetown entered the day ranked sixth nationally with a .489 field-goal percentage, but the Hoyas shot just 36 percent (18-of-50) against Syracuse. They also had 16 turnovers and only 10 assists.

Villanova G Corey Fisher's offense: Five days after shooting 3-of-16 and scoring eight points in a 69-64 loss to Syracuse, Fisher went 1-of-10 and scored just two points in an 81-68 loss to St. John's. If Villanova's leading scorer doesn't pull out of this slump, the Wildcats could be headed toward a second consecutive late-season slide.

Arizona's offense: The Wildcats apparently forgot how to put the ball in the basket once they left for southern California. They followed up a 65-57 loss to USC by falling 71-49 at UCLA. Before this trip, they hadn't scored fewer than 63 points in a game all season. Star F Derrick Williams scored just eight points against USC and 15 against UCLA.

Nebraska: After entering NCAA tournament consideration with an upset of Texas last week, the Huskers showed no signs of being able to handle their newfound prosperity. Nebraska followed up that upset by losing at home to Kansas State and falling 83-82 in overtime at Iowa State.

Alabama: Even though Alabama already has clinched the SEC West title, the Tide have no room for error in their drive for an NCAA tournament bid because of their poor non-conference resume. Blowing an 11-point lead in the final 13 1/2 minutes of a 68-63 loss at Ole Miss easily could come back to haunt them.

VCU: The Rams' NCAA tournament at-large hopes likely are gone after they closed the regular season with a 72-69 home loss to James Madison. It's tough to imagine VCU (21-10) making the field now unless it earns the Colonial Athletic Association's automatic bid.

Memphis: The Tigers' at-large hopes took a body blow as they suffered their most one-sided loss in more than a decade. Memphis was 1-of-18 from 3-point range and had 22 turnovers with only eight assists in its 74-47 loss to UTEP. Memphis hadn't lost by this many points since a 102-75 setback against UAB on Jan. 16, 2000.

Minnesota: Although Minnesota continues to be mentioned as a bubble team, it's hard to see how the Gophers could earn an NCAA tournament bid the way they've played the past month. After losing at home to Michigan on Saturday, the Gophers (17-11 overall, 6-10 in the Big Ten) now have dropped seven of their past eight games.

Offense in the Temple-George Washington game: Temple missed 16 of its first 18 shots and scored eight points in the first 10 minutes of its game with George Washington. The Owls still won 57-41 by limiting George Washington to two points over the final 11:22 of the game.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt's job security: Georgia Tech remained winless on the road after falling 79-74 at North Carolina State for its eighth consecutive conference loss. Georgia Tech reached the second round of the NCAA tournament last season, but the Yellow Jackets' growing loss total and shrinking home crowds could seal Hewitt's fate.

Duke G Seth Curry's disappointing evening: Curry, the son of former Virginia Tech star Dell Curry, undoubtedly wanted to have a huge game Saturday while playing on the campus where his father produced so many memorable moments. But it wasn't to be. With his father - whose jersey has been retired by Virginia Tech - watching from the stands, Curry went scoreless and fouled out after committing a turnover in the closing seconds of a 64-60 loss to Duke.

Tennessee at home: Tennessee has lost three of its past four home games and now is 10-7 at home this season. The Vols went 15-1 at home last season.

Colorado State: The Rams' fading NCAA tournament hopes may have vanished entirely Saturday as they fell 74-57 at Air Force for their third consecutive loss.

Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles quietly entered the weekend 40th in the RPI, but they hurt their NCAA tournament at-large hopes Saturday by falling 65-64 at UCF. Knights G A.J. Rompza hit just one basket - but it was the game-winning 3-pointer with 3.8 seconds left. Marcus Jordan, whose dad, Michael, was on hand, scored 20 points to lead UCF.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.


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