Cougars excited and focused on tournament

Recent dreams of a No. 1 seed for BYU in the NCAA Tournament are over. But after a No.7 seed last year and a No. 8 seed each of the three years before that, BYU earned a No. 3 seed this year despite fears by some that the suspension of Brandon Davies would lead to a worse draw. The No. 3 seed matches BYU's best seed ever, having earned the same seed in 1980. First up for BYU: No. 14 seed Wofford.

"We're excited to be in the tournament," said Coach Rose. "I think a 3 seed is very deserving for these players. They've played consistent all year long."

In addition to earning their highest seed in 31 years – and the same No. 3 seed they had a shot to get last year before losing to New Mexico in Provo – the Cougars have the added benefit of playing their first-round game (and second-round game if they advance) in Denver. It will be a short trip for the team, and BYU fans should be able to come out in force.

"We have a great fanbase out in Denver, and I think that's really gonna help with all that support," said Noah Hartsock.

Jimmer Fredette anticipated BYU getting anything from a No. 3 seed to a No. 5 seed, but was hoping for at least the latter. So, Sunday's bracket announcement was welcomed news for the senior guard.

"We were very excited to get a 3 seed in Denver, which is pretty close, so I'm sure we'll have a good amount of fans there and good fanbase," said Fredette. "But it was exciting. We've had a great year this year, and the selection committee saw that and just wanted to reward us for that."

As for their first-round matchup, the 21-12 Wofford Terriers (109th in RPI, 171st in strength of schedule), co-champions of the Southern Conference regular season and winners of their conference tournament, are playing in their second consecutive NCAA Tournament.

Last year as a No. 13 seed, they narrowly lost to No. 4 seed Wisconsin 53-49.

"I do know they've won eight in a row," Rose said about Wofford, "and so now you've got a team that has a lot of confidence, and they've won their conference tournament, and so you gotta figure out a way to go in and break them and break that confidence."

The winner between BYU and Wofford will advance to either play No. 6 seed St. John's or No. 11 seed Gonzaga.

A second-round matchup with either of those teams would be intriguing. BYU will be joining Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference next season, and that could develop into a great rivalry. Meanwhile, a game against St. John's would pit the New York school against Fredette, a New York native.

Fredette said he watched St. John's growing up, and had complimentary things to say about their squad this year, but wasn't about to look past Thursday's game against Wofford. He noted that anytime a team plays in the NCAA Tournament, they are going up against good teams that have won big games, so there's no easy road.

Instead of worrying about potential future rounds of the big dance, Fredette is aiming to go out with a bang in his last collegiate tournament.

"I'm extremely excited. We have a great team here, the highest seed that I've received since I've been here, and we have a good opportunity to do some things in the tournament I think with our talent and the team that we have this year and the confidence that we have."

Tournament keys

As for what the keys are for BYU to have success in the tournament, Fredette said, "I think just playing as hard as we can, just shoot the ball well, really defend, and rebound the basketball and get out in transition."

The Cougars seemed to run out of gas in the championship game last Saturday against SDSU, as it was their third game in three days with a depleted squad. However, Fredette said he believes they will be fresh by Thursday. In addition, the worst they could face in the dance is two games in three days.

Meanwhile, Rose also shared what he thought were important things for his team to do in the tournament. For one thing, he's looking for everyone to step up. He noted all the open looks his team had against SDSU that they just didn't knock down.

"I think it's really important that we get ourselves in a positive frame of mind and we make shots," he said.

He said he believes they can be a really consistent offensive rebounding team and get a lot of second and third shots when they play with the right energy and mindset. Plus, he noted that other teams are spread out because of how they guard Fredette, which also helps with rebounding.

Speaking of defending Fredette, this will be the first time in a long time that BYU is going up against a team that has never played against him before. The question is whether or not that will affect the game much.

"It won't affect us much," said Rose. "Probably will affect them. I do know that Jimmer's become very efficient at reading defenses and has been very patient in his ability to attack."

In the end, Rose is looking for his team to show the same focus and preparation for their 35th game as they've shown for all previous 34 games, even if it's on a bigger stage.

"It's a special time with a special feel and so much attention, but what's really important is to be able to deal with all that but then be able to execute like you play."


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