Top 10 Moments of the BYU Basketball Season
This time of year I feel envious of the football team.
They get to win their last game of the year about half of the time and march off into the sunset, riding a wave of momentum into the off-season and feeling great about a nice accomplishment to cap off their year.
In basketball, we always end the season with 15 guys hurting in the locker room after a tough loss, walking towards the bus, wondering, “Was the season a success?” It can be hard to reconcile.
I remember that feeling after my last game against Xavier, a heartbreaking loss 77-79. We had won the MWC title, 25 games, and qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time in 3 years, but was it a success?
It’s difficult for most basketball programs outside of the powerhouses to define proper expectations and success. I live in Las Vegas, where fans’ expectations for UNLV range from the belief that they should still be a national contender, to the hope that they will compete for an NCAA bid.
Well, this year, I don’t think it’s right for BYU to have to wonder. This season was an overwhelming success, and should be celebrated as the best in the history of the program. I definitely am proud of what they did, and how they battled!
I feel bad that these guys had to struggle out of bed the morning after the Florida game, how the loss will sting for months to come as they replay certain plays in their mind over and over.
I feel bad that reckless columnists like Rick Reilly decided it was their job to try to humiliate the school, the Church, and Jimmer by ripping them based on one experience. I think he ended up embarrassing himself instead, and losing a lot of credibility in the process. He’s been bad ever since he left SI, to be honest.
Instead, I hope that the players and fans can think about some of these other things that I want to focus on, things I think should be remembered. So this weekend, as I was dealing with the tough loss, I was also reflecting on my top 10 moments of the 2011 season. I’d like to hear your favorites as well, or different perspectives and memories on these mentioned.
I got a chance to see numbers four and two on this list live and they were, in the words of famous singer-songwriter TJ Fredette, “Amazing.”
10. January 11 at Utah (#8 BYU 104, Utah 79)
This game not only highlighted the widening gap between BYU and Utah basketball, it was also the game that really put Jimmer on the national radar as a player of the year candidate. I remember watching SportsCenter afterward, and BYU got the first seven minutes of coverage on SportsCenter! Obviously it was a slow night in the Big East, right?
When has that ever happened?
That was an awesome night. My favorite moment of that game was when Jimmer hit the half court shot at the buzzer before halftime and then turns, expressionless, and heads for the locker room. Sick!
He had 47 points, starting a string of games where he would score 40 points in 3 out of 4 games. Almost lost in the chaos was the fact that Jax broke the BYU steals record on that night, which in most years should be on the top 10 list by itself.
9. January 5 at Vegas (#16 BYU 89, #24 UNLV 77)
Curse is broken!
We finally win in Las Vegas after years of tough losses there.
Jackson was great in this game–probably his best offensive night ever–with 22 points on 6-9 shooting from 3’s. Coach Rice put in a great game plan to handle their pressure defense. Jimmer answered the quote of Tre’von Willis saying he was the “supposed” best player in the league with 38 points of his own.
8. December 8 in Glens Falls, NY (#18 BYU 86, Vermont 58)
This game was specifically designed to get Jimmer a game close to home. CBSCS called it the “Hometown game.” I thought this was a really cool idea by the coaches and it was executed to perfection. Jimmer showed off in front of friends and family in the Glens Falls Arena with 26 points and 5 assists. This was the start of us realizing that he was a guy who could live up to high expectations and hype. That must have been a fun yet nerve-wracking game for him, and he delivered.
7. December 11 in Salt Lake (#21 BYU 87, Arizona 65)
Yes, this is the team that beat Duke 95-77 Thursday in the sweet 16. Yes, they are the PAC-10 champions. Yes, we beat them by 22 on a neutral court. Are they playing better now? Maybe, but they weren’t bad back then either.
This was a great win over a very good team, and a big reason for our 3 seed and top RPI. Any time you wonder how good this team really was, think of this game. Brandon Davies had 11 points on 5-5 shooting and played great D on Derek Williams, the best forward in the country.
6. January 26 in Provo (#8 BYU 71, #4 San Diego State 58)
I heard students were camped out for days for this one, and Jimmy Balderson told me it was the best college basketball atmosphere he had ever seen. This was a great game between two top 10 teams. I thought the hype for the game might be too much for Jimmer. I was wrong. He scored 43 points on 14-24 shooting and scored the last 18 points of the first half. I’m sure the sellout crowd was deafening during that run!
Brandon Davies had another really nice game defensively and added 14 points on 6-8 shooting. Jimmermania reached its peak after this game with Kevin Durant tweets, national talk show and SportsCenter interviews, magazine articles, FaceBook status updates about Jimmer from everyone and their moms, etc. Another highlight of this game was TJ Fredette performing his song in the pregame about his younger brother.
5. February 28, a #3 national ranking in the AP poll and coaches poll
It was fun to look at the polls that Monday morning after the win in San Diego and see BYU ahead of teams like Duke, Pitt, Texas, UNC, Kentucky, Syracuse, etc. What a moment for the team. People never would have expected the program to be able to get to that point, but the coaches and AD honestly always did. Those guys are dreamers, and they got it done.
4. March 11 in Las Vegas, MWC tournament (#9 BYU 87, UNM 76)
After being beaten twice by this team, Jimmer comes out of the gate as motivated and focused as I have ever seen him and scores 52 points on 22-37 shooting from the field. 52 points!!!!! He shot 1 free throw, people!!
I was sitting center court about 4 rows up, and I was going crazy. That was the best performance I can ever remember in college basketball. UNM has very good defenders, so it’s not like he did this against Montana State-Billings (no offense to those from the beautiful state of Montana).
Jimmer also broke Danny Ainge’s scoring record on a nice runner in the lane where he was fouled. This win changed us from a likely 5-seed to a 3-seed, and set us up for our sweet 16 run. It was a HUGE win. Those 12-seeded teams are very dangerous in the first round; I much prefer Wofford at a 14. Rick Reilly was not in attendance for that game and was obviously not watching on this night.
3. March 17 and 24- 2 weeks, 2 covers of Sports Illustrated for Jimmer
That was awesome. It reiterates the kind of national interest that BYU has had all year. This was clearly the most exposure the team has ever had–and maybe the school. There was no Twitter in 1984.
2. February 26 at San Diego (#6 BYU 80, #5 SDSU 67)
This was probably our most complete and best game of the year. We played so well as a team and really played great defensively. This game was made better by the fact that it was the highest rated CBS game of the year. The country got to see not only how good Jimmer is, but how good BYU is.
Hartsock and Abouo were fantastic. This game is also a little bit painful to remember because it is a reminder that with Brandon, we were one of the best teams in the country. Without him, we played really hard but we weren’t at the same level. That’s why it was such a relief to still make the Sweet 16 by having a great shooting night in Denver.
1. March 19 in Denver, NCAA Tournament (#10 BYU 89, Gonzaga 67)
All the players stepped up and shot the ball great to lead us to our first sweet 16 in 30 years. Jimmer was incredible, as usual, with 34 points but everyone else also played well in a big-time win for the program. We went 14-28 from the 3-point line. This was also the 32nd win of the year, a BYU record. What an amazing night, and a win I will feel happy about for a long time. Sweet 16!
That’s three wins now in two years in the NCAA tournament, after going a long time without any victories. Great progress is being made. Hopefully a starting lineup next winter of Matt Carlino, DeMarcus Harrison, Charles Abouo, Brandon Davies, and Noah Hartsock will keep this thing rolling once everyone is eligible.
I will miss the MWC but I think the WCC provides some new benefits and of course, ESPN coverage.
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