Kragthorpe: Jimmer's showing 'something special'
The ball was somehow spinning off the glass and into the basket, Jimmer Fredette's back was on the floor and a huge grin was on his face.
Just when another BYU-Utah basketball game was getting good Saturday night, Fredette became even better in the Cougars' 82-69 victory in a sold-out Marriott Center.
This is a balanced, diverse BYU team, but there's still one guy driving this whole operation. Amid everything -- the backdrop of the national Coaches vs. Cancer observance that hit home in Provo after coach Dave Rose's trying summer, the Cougars' pink shoes and the last-minute reminder that the rivalry still extends to hoops -- Fredette made sure BYU would win in the end.
Yet at the start, he was just another interested observer. With fellow guards Jackson Emery and Tyler Haws asserting themselves, BYU led 20-8 before Fredette even scored.
He finished with 36 points, the most any BYU player ever registered against Utah. Fredette delivered 20 of his team's last 25 points, and he continually came through just when the Utes were charging.
"That's kind of my mind-set: When things start getting tough," he said, "I like to be aggressive."
Watching him made that obvious, and so did listening to him. He used "aggressive" six times in the postgame news conference, just in case anybody had a different impression of his approach.
The Cougars (21-2) have played through Fredette's struggles when necessary, including his 1-for-13 night against Arizona State and his illness-related fade against UNLV. Just the same, when they needed him against the Utes, he was always there.
BYU led by only six points as the clock ticked inside five minutes to play, with Utah's Luka Drca having answered Fredette's scoop for a three-point play with a baseline jumper. Fredette's further response: a straightaway three-pointer, a right-angle three and that impossible, flip-and-hope job in the lane while being fouled by Jace Tavita.
Let's go ahead and say he's over that case of mononucleosis.
His spree totaled 12 points in 2 minutes, 17 seconds, sending the Cougars ahead 78-65 and coasting to the finish, which was spiced by Ute freshman Marshall Henderson's ejection after a dust-up with Emery.
The officials and coaches handled the incident nicely, especially Utah's Jim Boylen, who joked with Emery and Rose and acknowledged that Henderson "made a mistake ... he'll learn from it; he's got seven more of these [BYU-Utah] games."
Boylen stopped just short of recommending that Fredette participate in only one more rivalry contest, becoming the first to say the junior guard faces a dilemma about entering the NBA Draft.
Rose will appreciate Fredette as long as he can. "I know he was tired," Rose said. "He dug pretty deep."
There was a lot of that going around Saturday, on both sides. The cancer awareness promotion, coming during a season when Rose and his players hardly need any reminder of what they experienced with the coach's illness last summer, was "something special," Fredette said.
That description certainly applied to his own game.