Kragthorpe: Jimmer's job gets even tougher now
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Provo

Dunking, rebounding and blocking shots, Brandon Davies was everywhere Wednesday night.

Unfortunately for BYU, Davies' appearance at the Marriott Center came only during the traditional pregame video presentation, not yet edited to delete the exploits of the sophomore center who's gone for the season for violating the school's honor code.

Davies was dismissed, then missed. While guard Jimmer Fredette is the likely Player of the Year in college basketball, Davies is the team MVP — judging by his absence in an 82-64 loss to New Mexico.

OK, the Lobos obviously would have beaten BYU, even with Davies in the building, just as they did in late January in Albuquerque. Yet it became clear Wednesday that fulfilling BYU's basketball ambitions required everybody the Cougars could summon, and a critical player is missing.

This is too big of a job, even for Jimmer.

Having to carry this team to preferred destinations in March is a huge burden for Fredette, who spent the last three-plus minutes of the game sitting at the end of the bench, with his chin buried in his chest. BYU's outlook changed that much this week. Coming off an impressive victory at San Diego State, the No. 3 Cougars looked lost, physically and emotionally.

Describing Davies as "like a brother to us," Fredette said, "It's tough to lose a guy like that."

BYU coach Dave Rose said he's having to search for combinations that will work now, because "a lineup we were really comfortable with" is no longer in play.

Here's the thing about the Jimmerettes: When they start well and play confidently, they complement Fredette well. If not, Jimmer is forced to do too much, and that's not always such a good thing.

Since his epic, 43-point performance Jan. 26 against San Diego State in Provo, Fredette has not made more than half of his shots in any game. His 10-for-26 effort Wednesday, with 25 of his 33 points coming in the meaningless second half, dropped him to less than 40 percent over those last nine games.

Of course, the Cougars have lost only to New Mexico (twice) in that stretch. Explain this: A team that lost twice to Utah is responsible for two of BYU's three defeats.

Among the many signs appearing in BYU's student section were expressions of support for Davies ("Brandon we forgive you") and the reminder that Davies was only the Cougars' No. 3 scorer ("We still got Jimmer").

But this guy needs help.

For all the impact that BYU's Noah Hartsock and Charles Abouo made in San Diego, they struggled against the Lobos. In all, the Jimmerettes went 10 for 33, and their leader was not much better.

In the first half, Fredette's 1-for-7 start included a floating shot from the baseline that somehow sailed behind the backboard. He made his final attempt, then opened the second half with his only 3-pointer of the night and scored again in the lane.

Amid BYU's struggles, there was a moment when the Cougars seemingly had a chance, trailing 48-37. But Fredette missed an open 3-pointer from the right wing, New Mexico scored the game's next 11 points, and that was that.

Rose began the game by using backup center James Anderson in Davies' spot, but that didn't work. Same with his second-half approach of employing forward Logan Magnusson in a small lineup. BYU looked slow and short against New Mexico, and needs solutions soon. Already, this is March.

If the Cougars merely beat Wyoming at home Saturday in Fredette's farewell, they can will earn a No. 1 seed — in the Mountain West Conference tournament. Earning such a distinction for the NCAA Tournament is now another issue entirely, and then Jimmer's job will get even tougher.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com