LAS VEGAS -- Jimmer Fredette didn't need to pile on points from the foul line to score a career-high 52 in the Mountain West Conference semifinals Friday night.
He took just one free throw while firing up 37 shots from all over the floor in leading No. 8 BYU to an 87-76 win over nemesis New Mexico.
"That's the way they called it," Fredette said. "I was just fortunate enough to be making shots."
The top-seeded Cougars (30-3) will play in Saturday's title game against San Diego State (No. 6 ESPN/USA Today, No. 7 AP), which beat UNLV 74-72 in the other semifinal.
Fredette sank 22 buckets, including seven 3-pointers, and in the process broke Danny Ainge's career scoring record at BYU. He now has 2,417 points, which is also a Mountain West Conference record.
"He's very special, everyone knows that. The country knows that," said Lobos coach Steve Alford, himself a prolific scorer at Indiana in his day. "Special players can have special evenings like this, especially in March. He had one of 'em. He took great shots. He got into rhythm."
And yet, it honestly wasn't a one-man show.
"Jimmer had one of those real special offensive nights that kind of kept a lot of energy with our team," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "But you watch it, it's amazing how you can have a team win, as big a team win as this is with one player scoring 52 points. The steals by Jackson Emery, the rebounds by Kyle [Collinsworth], the toughness from Noah Hartsock, Charles Abouo, filling up the stat sheet like they did, it's a great team win."
Everything went right for Fredette on this night at the Thomas & Mack Center except one thing: His counterpart, Lobos senior leader Dairese Gary, an all-conference point guard, injured his knee early in the second half.
Although New Mexico (21-12) hung tough without him, the Cougars didn't have to deal with Gary's penetrating presence and superb leadership down the stretch as they snapped a four-game losing streak to the Lobos.
"He's been there for four years. He's the rock to that team, keeps them all together," Fredette said. "It's so unfortunate to see him go down like that. I've been with him for the last four years. He's had a great career here. He's one of the best players that I've played against in this league. He's a great defender. He's a great guy. We always talk to each other before the game. We like to battle.
"I just hope the best for him. I hope that his knee is OK and he'll be able to push forward in his career because he's a great player."
Fredette, the nation's leading scorer, made sure the Cougars didn't lose to the Lobos for a third time, breaking his own tournament record of 45 points set exactly a year earlier and scoring a career-best 33 in the first half. His previous career high was 49 points against Arizona in 2009.
The fifth-seeded Lobos' chances of a third win over BYU -- and perhaps an accompanying NCAA bid -- took a dive when their pinballing point guard went down with a right knee injury in the opening minutes of the second half. He was taken to the locker room to a standing ovation from fans of both teams.
With Gary back on the bench grimacing in pain, the Lobos played gallantly but missed their best player down the stretch when the Cougars pulled away.
Afterward, the BYU players lined up to hug Gary as they filed off the court.
"I wish I could have helped my team," Gary said through tears. "They didn't give up. We haven't given up all year."
Fredette, who scored 32 and 33 points in two blowout losses to the Lobos during the conference season, had 33 points by halftime as BYU took a 47-42 lead into the locker room.
Coming into the game, BYU was 29-1 against everybody else but 0-2 against New Mexico, which beat the Cougars 86-77 in Albuquerque and 82-64 last week in Provo, Utah, when BYU was without center Brandon Davies, who was suspended for the remainder of the season for violating the school's honor code.
"We knew that we could play better than what we did in Provo," Fredette said. "Our minds weren't quite right and everything. But we felt that if we gave a good effort tonight, we would have a chance to win."
Davies was decked out in a striped sweater and slacks Friday night and handed out cups of water to the starters during timeouts, then doled out tips to Collinsworth, a freshman who replaced him in the lineup, giving the Cougars a quick, four-guard look.
The Lobos were down 47-44 when Gary injured his knee cutting across the lane with 18:32 left. Gary is the Lobos' top perimeter defender and the one who sets up everything on offense. He was Alford's first recruit at New Mexico.
"We missed him a lot, obviously," said Drew Gordon, who led the Lobos with 17 points. "He's our leader. He's our senior. He's been able to kind of put us on his back throughout the hard times through the season. Having him go down and seeing him in a wrap really kind of hurt the team. But it's the middle of the game, so you need to keep focusing on the task at hand."
Alford said he wasn't sure how bad Gary was hurt: "Don't know if it's ACL or exactly what is wrong. I was told he could not play. I know he's in a lot of pain."
"He's been the guy the last four years," Alford said. "He's had an awful lot to do with the 97 wins. He did his dangdest to try to get one from the sideline. That's about the only way he hasn't won a game for us, is sitting on the sideline."
- Randy McCall
- Larry Spaulding
- Eric Curry