Kragthorpe: BYU's glitter finally fades in Vegas
In the end, Jimmer Fredette and the BYU Cougars became just another tired act in Vegas.
The Cougars overstayed their welcome by one game in the Mountain West Conference tournament before departing Thomas & Mack Center and the league itself with Saturday's 72-54 loss to San Diego State in the title game.
The defeat was both forgivable and sobering for BYU, considering what's ahead in the NCAA Tournament. The Aztecs have beaten everybody they've played this season except BYU (twice), and they looked aggressive, motivated and fresh in this game, with something to prove.
SDSU played with "a lot of passion, a lot of emotion," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "I thought we matched that for a while, but they just kind of wore us down."
The Cougars already had accomplished pretty much what they needed to do in this tournament, avenging two losses to New Mexico, reaching the championship game and preserving a probable top-three NCAA seed. So what did we learn about BYU in these past three days?
Nothing new, really.
Amid the struggle with Texas Christian, Fredette's spectacular show against New Mexico and the blitzing by SDSU, the Cougars' run in Vegas perfectly illustrated who they are: They're capable of beating anybody when Jimmer's on his game and in danger of losing to anybody they'll meet in the NCAA Tournament if he's not.
That makes BYU one of the most intriguing teams in the field of 68, and I defy anyone to forecast exactly how long the Cougars will last.
BYU's season has reached the point where Jimmer's supporting cast is no longer the variable. His shooting determines everything, plain and simple. Against the Aztecs, Fredette was 10 for 25; everybody else was 9 for 34. Obviously, that was not going to beat SDSU.
The consolation is that BYU should not run into any team like the Aztecs until the Sweet 16. Inevitably, the absence of suspended center Brandon Davies will catch up with the Cougars, as clearly happened Saturday among other issues. SDSU's Billy White and Kawhi Leonard were relentless inside, while Fredette worked harder than ever for his 30 points.
BYU beat the Aztecs in conference play when Fredette went wild in Provo, with help from Davies, and in San Diego, where Charles Abouo and Noah Hartsock aided the cause considerably. None of the above occurred against SDSU in Vegas. And while Jackson Emery's start was encouraging, his 4-for-11 shooting made him 10 for 35 for the tournament, not exactly the kind of assistance Fredette will need in whatever remains of BYU's season.
"We weren't tired, we were beat up," Emery said.
In that sense, this tournament was more demanding than what's to come. The Cougars will have a day off between games in the first and second rounds, enabling a thin team to recover.
So BYU will move on, this season and beyond. Next March, the Cougars will be playing in the West Coast Conference's tournament at Orleans Arena, four miles west of Thomas & Mack Center on Tropicana Avenue.
In this farewell tour, the Cougars shared the conference's regular-season title and produced the most memorable performance in MWC history, Fredette's 52-point game Friday. Their only mistake was coming back for more against the Aztecs.