Calm, cool BYU equal to moment; Aztecs not

SAN DIEGO — This was the scene: On one end of the basketball court at Viejas Arena, San Diego State players danced and pranced and hooted and hollered, bumping chests and slapping hands and laughing up a storm while expending all sorts of energy dunking.

On the other end were the players from Brigham Young, slowly, methodically, impassively doing lunges up one side and down the other, not a hint of emotion on their faces, not a trace of nerves in their systematic movement.

The clock still showed 45 minutes before tipoff.

It was a sign of things to come, which is another way of saying seventh-ranked BYU handled the moment far better than No. 6 San Diego State on Saturday.

The Cougars made a definitive statement for a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed in controlling the pace and flow and definitely the Aztecs throughout an 80-67 win before a sellout crowd of 12,414 and a national TV audience.

The biggest regular-season game in Mountain West Conference history wasn’t all that dramatic. BYU trailed 2-0 but never again, never allowing the Aztecs to create the sort of runs that would have brought the arena to its deafening apex, never opening the door of opportunity enough for San Diego State to barge through.

The Aztecs and their impassioned student section acted as if they had been ready to go since Tuesday, but there is such a thing as being too amped.

One team was composed and handled the moment.

The other team wasn’t and didn’t.

"I told our team afterward that BYU is Final Four good," Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said. "I’m sure they didn’t like that. Then I told them we are, too. BYU was better today. No excuses. They made plays. They made shots.

"If it doesn’t burn and doesn’t hurt, something is wrong. It does. That’s all we’ll be thinking about tonight. But we have more work to do. The resiliency of youth is always good. Forgive, but don’t forget. Don’t forget what happened."

What happened is easy enough to dissect. BYU is Jimmer Fredette and a host of other really good players, and when those players make open shots as they did here, the Cougars can beat anyone from Columbus, Ohio, to Durham, N.C., to Lawrence, Kan.

BYU made 14 of 24 3-point attempts and five players had at least one, dissecting San Diego State’s constant double-teaming of Fredette by plunging the dagger deeper and deeper as each long jumper fell through net.

Fredette scored 25 but more important were his nine assists. Charles Abouo. Jackson Emery. Noah Hartsock. They all played big. They all made huge shots.

Fredette shot 4-for-8 on 3s. His teammates were 10-for-16. The last time these teams met, Fredette scored 43 and his teammates 28. This time, his teammates contributed 55.

"I’ve told everyone all year long that it’s not only me," Fredette said. "I’m glad a lot of people were able to see today that our entire team is very good."

The Cougars are two wins from claiming a regular-season championship outright before they begin calling the West Coast Conference home, but they could still be five wins from that No. 1 seed.

BYU might have to win out in the conference tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center to see its name atop one of four brackets on Selection Sunday. It shouldn’t be that way. History suggests it is.

Crazy. There is still a faction that believes the Mountain West a mid-major league and ignorantly repeats such nonsense on national broadcasts and across the Web. These teams here Saturday, this atmosphere, this level of play, is of a major category.

It speaks volumes for how good BYU is, coming here and not being rattled by a creative and in-your-face student section, to make that many shots whether open or not.

The Cougars deserve all the accolades that come from such a win and then some, beginning with being a serious option for a No. 1 seed.

"Whether they shoot 14 of 24 (on 3s) or not, they’re going to be a very, very tough out for anyone in the NCAA Tournament," Fisher said. "I don’t care who it is. They are that good."

You could see it 45 minutes before tipoff.

Moments like this are meant to be grasped. BYU owned a much tighter grip from the start, from those slow, methodical, impassive lunges to all those long jumpers falling through the net.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday and Thursday on "Monsters of the Midday," Fox Sports Radio 920 AM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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