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 No. 7 San Diego State, 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.
"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."
No. 7 San Diego State 74, UNLV 72
San Diego State is getting one more shot at BYU - thanks to D.J. Gay.
The senior point guard, dubbed the team's "Most Important Player," by coach Steve Fisher, sank a short jumper with 4.9 seconds left to send the Aztecs past UNLV in the semifinals.
The defending tournament champions secured their third straight title game appearance when UNLV's Tre'Von Willis was off target on a fadeaway, contested 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
Eighth-ranked BYU (30-3) is the only team that's beaten the Aztecs (31-2) this season, winning 71-58 in Provo, Utah, and 80-67 in San Diego.
Gay finished with 15 points for the second-seeded Aztecs. Kawhi Leonard led four players in double figures with 18 points, pulled down eight rebounds and played the last 4 minutes with four fouls.
Fisher's trust in Gay never wavered even as his floor leader had lost his shooting touch in the quarterfinals 24 hours earlier.
"You could tell when D.J. made that first basket - at least I could - that he was going to be playing with confidence and hopefully his shot would fall, and it did tonight," Fisher said.
"D.J. is a tremendous competitor. He had been in a bit of a shooting slump obviously. I think he was 1 for 9 last night, hadn't shot the ball well. I think he got a little bit down.
"But D.J. is a winner. You want a guy like that on your side. I had a feeling that D.J. would have himself ready to play a really good game and a really smart game tonight, and he did just that."
Chace Stanback led third-seeded UNLV with 22 points and Willis added 19.
San Diego State and BYU shared the conference regular-season crown, with the Cougars gaining the top seed on the basis of their stunning sweep.
The Cougars outlasted New Mexico in the other semifinal behind a career-high 52 points from Jimmer Fredette.
Aztecs forward Billy White was astounded watching Fredette's fireworks Friday night.
"He's just amazing. It's just impossible to stop him," White said. "We're just going to try to go back to our game plan and see what we did wrong. Obviously we lost to them twice. We just got to see what happened in those two losses. We just got to try to contain him."
Actually, the Aztecs felt they did that in their second loss to the Cougars.
"The first game at BYU they kind of ran us off the floor, kind of out rebounded us," White said. "The second game, we let them get wide-open shots. We kind of contained Jimmer, but we just left other people open."
Gay said he might have a tip to offer up for the championship.
"I would say try and not let them make 14 3-pointers again," he said, chuckling.
"Just defend, not have silly turnovers, just play hard," offered Malcolm Thomas.
The Aztecs had to survive their third tough game with the Runnin' Rebels (24-8), whom they beat by six points twice this season.
"It's pretty frustrating because we know we can compete with them," Rebels guard Anthony Marshall said. "You go into games like that expecting a battle. Those are the type of games you're looking for. To come up short three times in a row, it's very disappointing.
"We're looking forward to the tournament now. Games like this get you ready for the atmosphere and battles like that in the NCAA tournament."
Leonard hit three straight jumpers to give the Aztecs a 65-59 lead at the 6-minute mark, but he picked up his fourth foul with 4:17 left and White sank two of three free throws, then got a breakaway basket at the other end to tie it at 66.
Stanback's free throws with 2:53 left gave UNLV, which trailed by a dozen in the second half, a 68-66 lead.
But the Aztecs are great closers - they've won 43 straight games when leading at the 5-minute mark.
Thomas sank two free throws to tie it, then Chase Tapley sprinted downcourt for a finger-roll layup after White blocked Oscar Bellfield's lay-in attempt, giving San Diego State a 70-68 lead.
After Marshall tied it again with two free throws, then blocked White's shot, UNLV called time out with 1:17 left and the game tied at 70.
Stanback's jumper from the top of the circle gave the Rebels a 72-70 lead, but Thomas tied it one last time with a pair of free throws.
After a UNLV timeout with 35 seconds left, Bellfield turned the ball over and, as Fisher had instructed during the break in action, the Aztecs cleared out the lane for Gay to penetrate. He swished the shot the same way he did earlier in the season when he hit a buzzer-beater at Colorado State on Feb. 2 in a 56-54 win.
"When they called the timeout, Coach Fisher made it clear that he wasn't going to use a timeout. He told me to go get the ball, call for a ball screen, and make something happen," Gay said. "They've been playing the ball screen pretty hard all night. I knew if I faked right, went left, they would bite on it most likely. That's what I did. I saw an open lane and I went for the floater."