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February 26, 2011, 06:41 PM ET
BYU Makes a Statement

by Kevin Pelton

Jimmer Fredette put on a show in the first meeting between top-10 Mountain West rivals BYU and San Diego State, but the Cougars’ 71-58 home victory was relatively inconclusive as far as determining the conference’s best team. Not so for Saturday’s rematch, played at Viejas Arena on the SDSU campus. By going on the road to win 80-67 in a hostile environment, BYU firmly established itself as the class of the Mountain West.

Fredette delivered plenty of the heroics that have endeared him to fans in Provo and across the nation, knocking down a pair of long three-pointers and coming up with two key and-ones during the second half. Still, this wasn’t the Jimmer’s best effort. He needed 23 shots to score 25 points and turned the ball over five times. Instead of the Fredette show, this was an opportunity for BYU’s other key players to introduce themselves to the CBS audience.

Most impressive was junior swingman Charles Abouo, whose athleticism was crucial against the Aztecs’ talented front line. Abouo delivered one of the best performances of his career on the big stage, putting up 18 points and nine rebounds–triple his season scoring average and double his typical rebounding. Abouo was unexpectedly hot from downtown, making four of his five three-point tries as part of the Cougars’ barrage from beyond the arc. Fredette was 4-of-8 on threes, Noah Hartsock 3-of-4 and Jackson Emery made a pair of triples in six attempts. Add in a three from Stephen Rogers off the bench and that’s a total of 14 three-pointers–more than half of BYU’s baskets. Hartsock was perfect inside the arc for a total of 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting and Emery added 13 as part of the balanced scoring attack.

At the other end of the floor, San Diego State’s lack of shooting again proved problematic. Cougars coach Dave Rose alternated man and zone defenses in the first half before going exclusively to the zone after halftime. The Aztecs did a better job of working the ball inside than in the first meeting, but BYU defenders dug down to contest any attempts in the paint. San Diego State was unable to convert the open looks from downtown, shooting 6-of-17 from three-point range.

In the first game, the Aztecs stayed close with second-chance scores. This time around, Brigham Young cut down on those opportunities. San Diego State grabbed seven offensive rebounds after halftime, but there were a lot of misses available. In percentage terms, the Aztecs rebounded just 26.9 percent of their own misses, far below their season average of 37.5 percent. Even the looks San Diego State did get rarely turned into scores–the Aztecs had just four second-chance points in the entire second half. Without putbacks, San Diego State simply had a tough time scoring.

We may not be done with SDSU-BYU battles with the Mountain West Tournament on tap. Of course, UNLV–which is very tough to beat in the MWC tourney thanks to hosting it each year–might have something to say about that. The biggest implication of this game might be the fact that Brigham Young is in the driver’s seat to earn the No. 1 seed in the Mountain West Tournament. With a win over New Mexico, which handed them their only conference loss at the Pit, the Cougars will almost certainly win the regular-season championship. That will likely mean a semifinal matchup between UNLV and San Diego State. In the longer run, BYU now has a shot at earning a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament by sweeping its way through Las Vegas. If the Cougars pull it off, today reminded us it will be thanks to more than just Fredette.

You can contact Kevin at kpelton@basketballprospectus.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kpelton.

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