I warn you, this is going to be long, because I have a lot to say:
Looking back on No. 10 New Mexico’s 83-81 win Saturday afternoon at the Marriott Center, I have many thoughts on the game that I haven’t written about or expressed. First, the Lobos won this game, BYU did not lose it, and the officiating was not the reason BYU lost. The game was filled with many good plays and impressive stretches by both teams. Several players came up big and played clutch. No one should question the effort or performance of any player who took the court. In all close games between two very good teams, which both the Lobos and Cougars are, it comes down to plays late in the game. The winner usually makes the most plays and the losing team doesn’t. That’s basketball. And it’s especially basketball when you have two of the nation’s best, which these teams are, competing hard in a high-energy environment. Give credit where credit is due, just as BYU’s coaches and players did following the loss. New Mexico is 27-3 because of their poise down the stretch in crunch time, and the Lobos had that again on Saturday.
“Coach (Steve) Alford has himself a very good team. They played well and made enough plays at the end to win,” BYU coach Dave Rose said.
The Lobos won because of key offensive rebounds. The Lobos won because every time BYU went on a run that normally puts opponents on their heels, Roman Martinez, Dairese Gary, Darrington Hobson, Phillip McDonald or A. J. Hardeman made a big play. Martinez, especially, made several key shots to quiet the crowd and end a BYU push.
Yes, BYU missed some critical shots down the stretch. But so did New Mexico, including a lot of free throws. It was a game that could have gone either way, and the loss was going to be hard to swallow by one of the teams, regardless.
Did some calls go against BYU? Yes. Did some calls go against New Mexico? Yes. Was Noah Hartsock fouled on Hobson’s block at the end of the game? Maybe, and Hobson might have been whistled for a foul on that same kind of play earlier in the game. I agree that there was more contact on that play than on the one minutes earlier on the other end that negated a Michael Loyd dunk. But had the tables been turned and had it been BYU making that play on a New Mexico player in that same situation, I believe the officials would have handled it the same. You always get no-calls on those either-way plays late in the game like that. So, basically, Hobson just made a great play that kept the game from going to overtime.
My main complaint about the officiating was that they called the game two different ways. What wasn’t a foul in the first half became a foul in the second half. They called the game a lot tighter and allowed less physical play after the break. But I don’t think that really affected the outcome, just the flow of the game.
I don’t think Cougar fans should use the “we didn’t have Jimmer” excuse either. The team is not. Everyone wanted to see Jimmer Fredette play, but considering the fantastic 19-point second half from Loyd, and the energy he brought to the team, it’s hard to imagine the Cougars would have received more than that from Fredette. I do believe, however, that the Cougars would have been more effective in the first half had Fredette been feeling better when he did play. He just wasn’t himself, and it showed and the Cougars were not as effective on either offense or defense in the first half.
Some Lobos, however, felt Fredette’s absence was critical.
“Without him on the floor it was a lot easier, even though Loyd stepped in and played very well tonight,” Gary told me in a post-game interview
Some have been critical of Fredette not playing. I’ve heard and read comments that Fredette let the team down and showed a lack of heart by not playing. To those people I say, you are a clueless and uneducated on the facts, or just cowardly yourself. I sat five feet behind Fredette. He was sick. He looked like he was fighting hard not to throw up the entire game. And Fredette did not quit on the team. He simply was too sick to play effectively. He tried. He’s as gutsy and competitive as any player I’ve ever seen. But coach Rose recognized that Jimmer lacked energy and made the coaching decision that a healthy Michael Loyd was better than a sick Jimmer Fredette. Good call, obviously. Rose is the one who decided to sit Fredette, and Fredette did what any good team player does, and accepted the decision and supported the team. Sure, it had to be frustrating for Fredette to watch this game from the bench. But under the circumstances, it was best for the team. Sometimes the body makes those decisions, which was the case here.
The loss is not the end of the world for BYU’s hopes, and only means the Cougars’ streak of regular-season titles is likely over. But there’s still a MWC Tournament title up for grabs, a high seed into the NCAA Tournament on the line, and winning games in the tournament ahead for BYU. By winning their remaining two road games and playing well in the MWC Tournament, they can remain high in the national rankings and get a good NCAA seed – probably not as high as they would have received by beating New Mexico on Saturday (probably a No. 3 seed) but still a favorable seed, probably a four or five. By winning an NCAA Tournament game or two, the Cougars won’t even remember this loss.
My thoughts on the JT and Alford postgame spat: On Monday, or soon after, I expect the Mountain West Conference to reprimand New Mexico coach Steve Alford for his cursing of BYU’s Jonathan Tavernari in the post-game hand-shake line. If not, the conference should. And Alford, hopefully, will issue some type of a public apology to the conference, BYU, JT, and Lobo fans as well.
While not condoning how Tavernari handled himself in the final minutes or after the game when Alford tried to compliment JT on a great career, Alford is the coach of a high-ranked Division I team. He must show more restraint and should walk away from a confrontation like this and not throw fuel on the fire by swearing at JT right in front of cameras and players and coaches from both teams. Some allege that Alford made similar remarks to BYU fans as he left the floor.
Regardless of whether Darrington Hobson threw an flagrant elbow at JT right before a time-out in the final minute (I have not seen any video of the incident, so I don’t know if he did or did not), Tavernari should have left it aside when going through the post-game congratulatory line. He did not, and that angered Alford and a Lobos assistant coach, and both reacted. But everyone knows JT is on the verge of eruption a lot of the time. He’s a firecracker. And he’s also a young man who is still learning and growing. I’m sure that he now regrets his postgame anger, behavior and frustration. It took away from his great game, and he did play great. BYU officials handled it correctly, and quickly, when AD Tom Holmoe escorted JT down to New Mexico’s locker room shortly after the game to apologize.
But even though Tavernari is 22 years old and should know better after four years of college experience, Alford and any coach in his position has to be the adult in these situations and act like one, and bring calm and order. Alford did not. And now he should acknowledge that, and so should the conference.
Bad crowd behavior: It’s been well publicized that when the game ended some from the BYU student section threw cups and other debris down on the court and around New Mexico’s celebration. Understandable? I don’t think so. Acceptable? Hardly. Explainable? Yes. This debris did not come from BYU fans, but from BYU students. To me, there’s a bit of a distinction. Students are young people filled with passion, who sometimes struggle to control that passion. But they need to learn how to do it, that’s part of growing up. Hopefully, they’re feeling ashamed today and will apologize in some fashion to their friends, fellow students and the university, and to the New Mexico team and fans. Sadly, the behavior from – my guess about 20 people – has tarnished BYU’s sportsmanship image some. To those who were not there, however, it looked to me like most fans left the Marriott Center disappointed in the loss, but respectful that the Cougars were defeated by a very good New Mexico team that played a very good game.