DAYTON, Ohio — Lamont Jones has played against Brigham Young twice before.
But he only remembers one player — one no longer even with the Cougars.
Jones, now a top player for Iona, got a close-up look at BYU phenom Jimmer Fredette in two meetings before transferring to Iona following his sophomore year at Arizona.
"To be honest, I remember Jimmer Fredette," Jones said when asked his most vivid memory of past meetings. "That sticks out like a sore thumb. The rest of it was just kind of a blur. The first game, I want to say he had like 50. The next game he probably had 40."
Actually, Fredette, now with the Sacramento Kings, scored 49 and 33 points in the games in question. Jones was one of the players who tried and failed to stop him.
But with Fredette now in the NBA, Jones and the Gaels (25-7) believe they can beat the Cougars (25-8) in a battle of No. 14 seeds tonight at the First Four at the University of Dayton.
Both teams like to get the ball out and run, but Jones feels an up-tempo pace favors his team, which leads the nation in scoring at 83.2 points a game.
"With BYU playing a fast-paced game — and, again, I’ve played against them twice — I don’t think they play nearly as fast as we do," Jones said. "I think we still have a speed advantage on them. If we can do what we do every day and maintain our focus, we’ll be OK."
Things have changed for the Cougars, who got an at-large NCAA bid after losing to Gonzaga 77-58 in a West Coast Conference tournament semifinal March 3.
A year ago, Fredette was America’s darling as BYU headed into the tournament as a No. 3 seed. The Cougars beat Wofford and Gonzaga before being eliminated by Florida 83-74 in the regional semifinals. Fredette scored 32, 34 and 32 points in those games.
With Jimmermania reigning, it was quite a ride.
"It’s a big difference (this year)," forward Noah Hartsock said. "I remember last year having that 3 seed, a lot of expectations not only to win the first game, but to advance deep into the tournament."
This year, post-Jimmer, is just as nice.
"You know, it’s a neat feeling. It’s still exciting," Hartsock said.
Iona had to keep its fingers crossed after losing to Fairfield in a Metro Atlantic tournament semifinal March 4. Some observers had the Gaels as one of the last teams into the field, and some left them out of the tournament entirely.
Now they want to prove that they belonged all along.
"Getting this opportunity is wonderful for us, because now we get to show the whole country what Iona basketball is about," point guard Scott Machado said. "We want to show everybody we can play and we can compete with the best."
A lot of teams bemoan the fact that just a few hours after they learn they’re in the tournament, they have to fly off to a small city in Ohio for the First Four. Some consider it the JV game before the varsity takes the floor in the big games on the weekend, under the glare of the national spotlight.
But Iona coach Tim Cluess welcomes the chance with no interference and no other competition from all the other college games on so many other channels.
"I’m thrilled that people — fans and recruits that we’re trying to get involved with — are going to have a chance to see us and spend a little time watching us," he said.
Iona, winless in seven trips to the tournament, doesn’t have a starter taller than 6 feet 7 inches. BYU, in for the sixth year in a row and the 27th time overall, boasts a front line that includes Brandon Davies at 6-9 and Hartsock at 6-8.
"They’re great players. They’re big, strong dudes. They know how to play. They know how to use their bodies," Davies said of the smaller Gaels. "It’s going to be a battle regardless of their height."
Jones might not remember much about anybody at BYU other than Fredette, but the Cougars sure remember him.
"He looks like he’s doing the exact same thing (he did at Arizona)," coach Dave Rose said. "He’s a terrific player — one of the best we’ve played against."