The Natural



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It was late when I got back to my hotel room last night, but I couldn't sleep until I watched the entire rebroadcast of BYU's 99-69 BYU win over Arizona. I just had to see for myself that Jimmer Fredette really did what I had seen him do for 36 scintillating minutes at the McKale Center.

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Fredette's BYU record-setting 49 points were rich in symmetry (24 in the first half, 25 in the second half), accuracy (16/23 from the field), artistry (a BYU record-setting nine three pointers to go with a variety of runners, floaters, lay-ins and jumpers), and reliability (8/9 from the free throw line).

Add his nine assists, seven rebounds and two steals, and it was as complete and commanding a game as any BYU player has ever played.

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I never saw Danny Ainge play in person--in fact, I have only seen scattered TV clips of Ainge in a BYU uniform. I do know that while Ainge was a superstar and a starter from the minute he set foot on campus, Jimmer Fredette had to bide his time and earn his minutes--remember, he didn't start a single game of his freshman season and never scored more than 19 points in any one game. In fact, he had six scoreless games as a rookie, and shot only 41% for the season.

Did Jimmer suspect that he might have more natural basketball ability than staring guards Ben Murdock and Sam Burgess? Perhaps. But he knew, and we knew, that Dave Rose had the players on the floor who would give his team its best chance to win, and win BYU did--27 times, leading to an outright MWC title and an NCAA Tournament bid. All the while, Fredette occupied his role, did so without sulking and got better as a player.

The next year, he was a starter, and a 48% shooter. He still wasn't "The Man," however--it was Lee Cummard's team, and Jimmer deferred to him, if almost imperceptibly. But, you could see a dominant guard developing, and an all-conference First Team selection would follow.

This season, you are seeing superstardom emerge unfettered, and the results have already been awe-inspiring. Simply put, Jimmer Fredette is the closest thing to Danny Ainge since Danny Ainge.

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What makes the Fredette story all the more enjoyable to tell is that you can't find a teammate or coach or team manager or trainer (or radio guy) who doesn't love Jimmer, and he may be the most humble and unassuming great player I have ever covered.

I have to admit that Fredette's "regular" appearance and demeanor add to the enjoyment I have in watching him torch his opponents. It's as if they can't quite believe that this rather ordinary-looking guy is capable of doing the things their coaches and the video say he is. Then, he goes out and morphs into a one-man wrecking crew, and does it in a way few players in this country can.

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Fredette now owns the BYU single-game records for points and three-pointers in a game, and has tied the MWC record for single-game scoring (he owns the league mark for single-game scoring by a junior). His nine triples also tie the conference single-game mark.

On the season, Fredette leads the MWC in scoring at 21.6 points per game. Remarkably, his lead over second place is greater than the gap between second place and 12th place--he's been that good.

He is tied for first in free throw percentage, second in assists per game, third in three-point percentage, fifth in field goal percentage, fourth in steals per game, and fifth in assist-to-turnover ratio. The conference Player of the Year race may already be over, and league play has yet to begin.

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By the way, Fredette's 49 points represent the second-highest single-game scoring total in Division One this season. Arkansas' Rotnei Clark scored 51 in a 130-68 win over Alcorn State on November 13th.

Clark went 15 for 21 from the field in that game, including 13 of 17 from the arc, adding two rebounds and five assists.

Look more closely, and you'll see Arkansas led 71-26 at halftime, yet Clark played 34 minutes. It's true that Jimmer Fredette stayed in the game last night to break a BYU record, but this was a seven-point game in the second half--at Arizona, no less. If BYU had led Alcorn State by 45 at halftime (at home), no way Fredette sees more than a minute or two after halftime. Dave Rose would never have let Fredette set a scoring record against a team like Alcorn State.

Clearly, Fredette's 49/7/9 at Arizona trumps a 51-point, homecourt, point-hunting, rub-it-in effort against a sacrificial lamb (Arkansas led Alcorn State by 73 at one point). I'm biased, and it's not a big deal, but there's no doubt Fredette has the "best game of the year" in D1 hoops so far this season.

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A brief postscript: back when Fredette was playing for Glens Falls High School in New York, I would keep in touch with the BYU coach primarily in charge of Fredette's recruitment, and that coach would tell me what a "special" player Jimmer was. So, I would track Fredette's box scores, see the points and assists roll in, watch the records accumulate and started to realize that a singular talent could be headed BYU's way. Everything I have learned about and seen from Fredette since has reaffirmed what "special" looks like.

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Not to be lost in last night's tour de force from Fredette was the fact that BYU did something that had never been seen before at the McKale Center. Not only did Fredette set an arena scoring record, but BYU's 30-point win set the McKale Center record for margin of victory by a UA opponent.

This won't be Arizona's best team of the Sean Miller era, but this was still Arizona and the McKale Center, and this was a Wildcat program which played in the Sweet 16 just this past spring. Arizona lost two players to the NBA, but the cupboard wasn't exactly bare for Miller, and in an apparently down year in the Pac-10, who's to say Arizona won't contend or be in the mix?

Sean Miller is a great coach, his team is talented (in our pregame interview, Dave Rose told me it was "the most talented" team BYU had played to this point in the season), and teams just don't walk into McKale and do what BYU did last night. The Cougars have reason to be proud, and reason to believe they have earned their way into next week's Top 25 polls, too.

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Also not to be overlooked from last night were the efforts from guards Jackson Emery (13 pts, seven rebounds, eight assists, two steals) and Tyler Haws (12 pts, three rebounds and a steal). BYU's starting guard line has ridiculous shooting numbers as a group; all three are shooting between 50% and 56% from the field, between 35% and 50% from the arc, between 82% and 93% from the stripe, and have combined for 71 of BYU's 124 steals.

Chris Miles' impact as a defender and post passer is being felt more keenly game by game, and freshman Brandon Davies is really starting to find himself. Noah Hartsock is BYU's "Big Fundamental," and Jonathan Tavernari still has time to get it together. In short, it's looking like the best team of the Dave Rose era, and since he's now 110-35 as head coach, that's saying a lot.

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BYU has now won eight games in a row--longest streak since the Cougars opened 10-0 to start last season.

BYU has played exactly as many games away from home (3-1 away, 3-0 neutral) as home games (7-0). You won't find too many elite teams willing to play seven of their first 14 games on the road. This kind of scheduling will pay off for BYU come March.

BYU's Jerry Palm RPI is up to 41 today. The Cougars are in a stretch of four straight games against RPI Top 100 opponents, and BYU is 3-0, with UNLV up next.

BYU is 6th in the Ken Pomeroy ratings--up from 10th just yesterday.

BYU is 13th in the Jeff Sagarin ratings.

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A reminder: you can hear audio from every game, pregame show and postgame show (including player and coach interviews) by going to our audio archive page.

From last night, you can hear postgame comments from Jimmer Fredette, Dave Rose, and comments from Arizona coach Sean Miller.

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