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Provo • A sigh of relief after a pleasant surprise.
That was generally the reaction of the BYU Cougars and their coaching staff Sunday afternoon when the nation's No. 8-ranked college basketball team learned it had been awarded a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and an opening-round game in Denver against Southern Conference tournament champion Wofford.
"We were all excited to get a three seed, in Denver, which is pretty close," said star guard Jimmer Fredette, the nation's leading scorer with a 28.5 average. "I am sure we will have a good amount of fans there."
Fredette said he and his teammates were expecting a three, four or five seed but nothing worse after the Cougars lost 72-54 on Saturday night in the Mountain West Conference tournament championship game to San Diego State, a loss that dropped their season record to 30-4.
"We are very fortunate to get that [three seed], and we are excited," he said.
It is the highest seed the Cougars have received since getting a No. 4 in 1988, and matches their highest seed ever, a No. 3 in 1980.
The Cougars were placed in the Southeast region, meaning if they win two games in Denver they will advance to the region finals in New Orleans.
At any rate, they feel like a three seed is a sign of respect from the selection committee, given that they have gone just 3-2 since sophomore center Brandon Davies was dismissed from the team for violating the school's honor code. There was some apprehension among BYU officials that the committee would take that into account heavily and drop the Cougars to perhaps a four or a five despite their top-10 RPI.
"We're excited," said coach Dave Rose. "A three seed is very deserving for these players. They have played consistently all year long. We have been able to win a regular-season [MWC] championship in a league that is ranked with the fourth RPI in the country. … Hopefully our fans will travel with us, and we will get ready for Wofford."
The Cougars were being projected as a No. 1 seed just two weeks ago after a regular-season sweep of San Diego State, which got a two seed. But losses to New Mexico and the Aztecs, both blowouts, took them out of that consideration, along with the loss of Davies for the season.
A three seed "is good," said junior Charles Abouo. "It is better being a three seed than a six or a seven. But we never really got caught up in that during the season. We just wanted to play our best basketball and be at our best going into the NCAA Tournament. We're happy."
Surprisingly, the Cougars seemed to know quite a bit about Wofford (21-12) just a few minutes after learning they would face the Terriers, who qualified for the Big Dance with a 77-67 win over College of Charleston in the Southern Conference tournament last Monday.
Wofford features 6-foot-6 forward Noah Dahlman, who averages 20 points and five rebounds a game.
"They are in the tournament for the second straight year, and they gave Wisconsin a run for its money last year [in the tournament], so they are a good team," said Jackson Emery. "Maybe they are a little overlooked. We have to be prepared for a big challenge."
BYU vs. Wofford
P Thursday at Denver, 5:15 p.m.
TV • Ch. 2