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New Orleans • Finding ways to win games when everything was going against them became a trademark of the BYU Cougars this season, their best ever in terms of wins and winning percentage.
An opponent finally found the solution for slowing down coach Dave Rose's team, and superstar guard Jimmer Fredette, on Thursday in what was being called the most important game in school history.
Second-seeded Florida, after blowing a chance to win the game in regulation, raced past the third-seeded Cougars in the extra session, taking an 83-74 win to end BYU's magical season at New Orleans Arena.
"It's tough that it is over," Fredette said, after going 11 of 29 from the field, including 3 of 15 from 3-point range. "Hasn't really sunk in yet that it is fully over right now. ... [The Cougars were] a possessionaway to get into the Elite 8."
Instead, the Cougars finished the season at 32-5, their chance to erase that dubious honor of the most NCAA Tournament appearances without making the Final Four 26 and counting stashed away until next year. But they will have to do it without arguably the best player in school history, who played the latter part of the second half with a bandage on his chin, having banged it against the floor after being tripped by Florida's Vernon Macklin.
"It was an incredible journey this season," said senior guard Jackson Emery.
But the last game will be remembered for what might have been.
What if freshman Kyle Collinsworth's second free throw, after he tied the game at 68-68 with 43 seconds left in regulation, had gone down?
What if the Cougars had snared a rebound after Florida's Kenny Boynton missed a three-pointer with 14 seconds left and given Fredette, or someone else, a chance to win the classic in regulation? Instead, Erving Walker chased down the long carom, and Chandler Parsons missed a heavily defended leaner as time was expiring.
What if the Cougars had boxed out Alex Tyus on Florida's first possession of overtime? His rebound basket in the extra session gave the Gators (29-7) a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
"They made a few more plays than we did at the end," coach Dave Rose said. "... It looked like they had a little more [left] to finish the game than we did."
BYU battled uphill almost all the second half, and trailed by six with nine minutes left.
But they capped a big rally with a Fredette 3-pointer at the 4:56 mark, tying the game at 63-63, bringing the overwhelmingly pro-BYU crowd to its feet and ensuring a fantastic finish.
Fredette missed two 3-pointers in the final two minutes. Either would have given the Cougars the lead.
"I thought that both of them were actually pretty good looks," he said. "I had space to shoot the shot, and I had confidence to make the shots. It just didn't happen."
That the Cougars kept it close was stunning, considering they shot 35.2 percent in the game and gave up dozens of easy shots to the Gators, who shot 47.7 percent and assisted on 23 of their 31 baskets.
"If you look at the stats sheet, we were able to hold all their guys under double-digit points, other than Fredette, and I thought that was going to be really important" said Florida coach Billy Donovan.
But Florida played along, though, by going 10 of 22 from the free-throw line, and committing 15 turnovers.
"I just didn't make quite enough shots," Fredette said, who played the entire second half with a strained left calf that required treatment at halftime. "I didn't shoot the ball great, but credit to their defense."
The game was tied at the half, 36-36, despite a slow start by the Cougars.
"I liked the fight in our players, but we just didn't have enough," Rose said.
R IN SHORT • BYU's NCAA Tournament run and best season in three decades end in New Orleans, as Florida races past the out-of-gas Cougars in overtime, 83-74.
Key Moment • Florida scores the extra session's first four points and never trails in OT.
Key Stat • Jimmer Fredette goes 11 for 29 from the field, including 3 of 15 from 3-point range.