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Provo • As officials viewed the replay monitor to see if a flagrant foul had taken place, a Pacific fan leaned over the railing at the Spanos Center and railed on BYU's Nick Emery, screaming at the freshman to clean up his act.
Sitting on the bench, Emery quickly glanced at the spectator, along with his teammates, then turned away without making a response even when the replay showed the non-flagrant foul was committed by Nate Austin and initially looked worse than it was.
"It is a learning process, and I'm getting better at it," Emery said with a shrug six weeks later. "I just hate to lose. If you hate to lose, you can be a hothead at times, and it kinda shows. But I've learned some lessons, and learned when I can say something, and when I can't. Really, it is something I am still working on, trying to figure out."
The Cougars head back out on the road Thursday for a game at San Diego, and Emery will again likely be the target of opposing fans at Jenny Craig Pavilion. That's partly because of the weekend he had, but also because he drew national attention upon himself for punching Utah's Brandon Taylor on Dec. 2 in the waning moments of the 83-75 loss to the Utes on Dec. 2.
Even though Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak cited the incident as one of the reasons he agreed to personally pay BYU $80,000 to get out of next season's contracted game, Emery knows it will follow him the rest of his career, and he's learning to accept that and move on.
"At the beginning of the year, I don't think I was able to handle that [taunting from opposing players and fans]," he said. "I kinda let them get into my head. That's probably one of the biggest lessons I've learned this year, is to not let that affect me and just play my game, play the game my coaches need me to play."
Emery's play was nothing short of sensational last week, as he busted out of a mild slump with a BYU freshman-record 37 points at San Francisco and 31 at Santa Clara to earn national Freshman of the Week honors from several publications. Perhaps because it is overshadowed by the Utah incident, the fact remains that Emery is having a better freshman season than Jimmer Fredette or Tyler Haws had, in terms of scoring.
Emery is averaging 16.1 points in 30.2 minutes. Haws averaged 11.3 points in 26.4 minutes per game and Fredette averaged 7.0 points in 18.5 minutes. Both played on arguably better teams in 2009-10 and 2007-08, teams that earned at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Dave Rose seems similarities between the finish that Fredette had in 2008 and the one he hopes Emery is on the cusp of having this year.
"Nick has had a great year. If you asked him, he would probably tell you he wishes he was more consistent throughout the season," Rose said. "I believe he will play his best basketball here in the next two or three weeks of the season. It started last week and hopefully it will continue on. He's got an unbelievable feel for this game and has some real talent. Hopefully we will be able to get the most out of him here down the stretch."
Emery says he was "embarrassed" and "remorseful" after punching Taylor and deserved the one-game punishment meted out by the West Coast Conference. Long talks with teammates such as Kyle Collinsworth and Chase Fischer and his brother, former BYU star Jackson Emery, and conversations with coaches "helped me get my head right," he said.
"Those were my own words in that apology [to Taylor and Utah]," Nick Emery said. "I own it. I was definitely the one at fault. I retaliated. It wasn't something I thought about before it happened, like, 'OK, I am going to do this.' I was caught in the moment. I take 100 percent responsibility for that. … To receive forgiveness from Cougar fans, that has meant the world to me. It is an experience that happened. It is in the past. Now I just have to move forward and not focus on that."
As his reaction at Pacific and his play last weekend showed, he's well on his way.
BYU vs. San Diego
P At Jenny Craig Pavilion, San Diego
Tipoff • Thursday, 9 p.m. MST
TV • ESPN2
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius XM 143
Records • BYU 19-8, 10-4 WCC; San Diego 8-17, 3-11 WCC
Series history • BYU leads 9-3
Last meeting • BYU 75, San Diego 62 (Jan. 19, 2015)
About the Cougars • They averaged 105.0 points and 20.5 assists per game in wins over San Francisco and Santa Clara last week and shot 58 percent from the field, 57.5 percent from 3-point range. … Kyle Collinsworth has recorded 31 double-doubles, the most ever for a BYU guard and tied for fourth overall in school history.
About the Toreros • Coach Lamont Smith is in his first year after replacing Bill Grier. … They are averaging just 60.6 points per game, but hold their opponents to 67.7 points per game. … Center Jito Kok leads them in scoring (8.1 ppg.), while forward Brett Bailey leads them in rebounding (5.2 rpg.). … They are averaging 6.1 3-pointers per game.
Nick Emery's stats
GP/GS • 26/22
Minutes per game • 30.2
FG percentage • .438
3-point percentage • .387
FT percentage • .867
Pts per game • 16.1
Rebounds per game • 2.9
Assists per game • 2.3
Steals per game • 1.3