DENVER - Wofford's coach was forewarned that BYU's zone defense was better, more athletic than it appeared on film.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few found out the same thing Saturday, like the Terriers two days prior, as the winning Cougars forced 20 points out of a look that was anything but passive in the second game for each at the NCAA Tournament.
"We understood how good Gonzaga is, and how big they are. As guards, we took it to heart to make sure we got our hands on balls, got tipped balls and created some fast break opportunities," said Jackson Emery, the school's all-time steals leader that was also voted the Mountain West Conference's best defender in his final college season. "We knew we had an advantage if we could get out and run."
BYU has played a lot of zone this year, and used it a ton in the 89-67 win against Gonzaga at the Pepsi Center. Head coach Dave Rose has employed it in all six seasons, though none more than this one.
The loss of two inside starters since the season started (Chris Collinsworth to injury; Brandon Davies last month to suspension) has forced a mish-mash of sorts. Making it not look like one has been arguably the team's greatest strength outside of managing egos and shots as Jimmer Fredette has taken the game by storm at the other end of the floor.
Associate head coach Dave Rice, who oversees the offense, credited fellow assistants Terry Nashif (fourth year) and Tim LaComb (first) for maximizing the athletic talents and basketball IQ of BYU's longest team yet.
For instance, 6-foot-6 Kyle Collinsworth can play just about anywhere on the floor already as a freshman, especially at the defensive end.
Build around that, Emery and the likes of a group that moves well in unison - sometimes to protect Fredette, other times to simply pester an opponent - and the Zags were left shaking their heads.
A 36-27 Gonzaga rebounding advantage off its significant height advantage meant nothing. The Cougars sometimes struggle to hit the glass out of zone, but they did other things with the ball in front of them to make up for it.
"I think I just didn't handle it the way I should have handled it," said center Robert Sacre, who had 17 points but also five turnovers. "I knew they were going to come double-team me. That's what they did in Wofford."
Its coach, Mike Young, said some Mountain West Conference coaches he considered friends warned him that BYU was more stringent and capable than they appeared on a television set. The zone wasn't merely a reactionary tool to foul trouble or fatigue because of the recent lack of depth.
It could be a weapon.
"We never give up and we fly around. Some people think that when you're in a zone defense it's time to rest. But not us," said BYU senior Logan Magnusson, himself an expert at drawing charges. "We almost work harder in a zone than in a man. That's what we have to do. We have to fly around and be physical."
Few said the defense made BYU's offense look even better, as the Cougars shot 52 percent from the field.
After getting a big lead, built to 18 points with eight minutes remaining, the zone can also slow down an opponent's attack.
Rice said besides the work of his fellow aides, a big factor is the way the defense can be employed this particular season.
"We don't play zone defense the same way against each opponent," he said. "Really, it's become a matchup zone. We're able to match up with the other team's personnel."
Jackson's back: Emery didn't see it as pressure.
A senior, he was struggling to shoot over the past four games. He might not have been getting many more chances to snap out of the funk.
He rose up with 16 points - the most in five games - and got going early with a couple of threes.
It was a solid bellwether of the kind of night it would be. Few lamented that sloppy defensive rotation early helped Emery get some confidence.
"He was really dialed in during our practice earlier in the day," Rice said. "And also during warm-ups right before the game. You could watch him and see it coming."
Emery hit 6-of-11 shots. He was 12-for-43 the past four games.
Now he goes to a place where he actually knows some people, New Orleans. Family on his mom's side will be clamoring for tickets for the Sweet 16 game next Thursday against Florida.
Sweet spot: Rice didn't share this as a pre-game fact. In fact, he told Stephen Rogers afterward that 21 years ago, Rice won a national title as a player at UNLV in Denver - at the now-demolished McNichols Arena.
Pepsi Center was built nearby in 1999.
"Denver's been good to me," Rice said.
Pretty hard for being soft: Few said BYU's complimentary players hurt his team and lamented the turnovers caused by BYU's defense.
"Having 15 turnovers against a soft zone, a soft man-to-man, we have not done that for quite some time," Few said. "I think that really hurt us. We came out at the start of the second half and turned the ball over five times. It was a seven-point game at that point. You cannot do that against a team this potent. They scored on every one of those turnovers."
Play to impress: While Fredette scored 34 points and dished out seven assists, Gonzaga's Michael Stockton, a freshman, went scoreless and had four assists playing in front of his father, former Utah Jazz guard John Stockton.
"It's cool," Fredette said. "Obviously he's a guy that I looked up to as I was growing up, for the Utah Jazz. Just a great player. Just to be able to play in front of him is an honor. As far as Gonzaga, they're a very good team. (Michael) Stockton is a good player. We just came out and we played well and were able to get a win."
That's far: A frequent question for Fredette from the national media is about his long range shooting. Does he ever see video later and think the shot was out of his range?
"Not necessarily outside my range," Fredette answered. "But I look at them like, wow, that's a long shot, maybe I shouldn't have shot that."
Rose, sitting a few seats down from his star player in the post game news conference, smiled and nodded his head.
"But I've made them before," Fredette continued. "I think that is what makes myself and my team good, that I can stretch the floor so much, that they have to guard me out there. It makes the high pick and roll very effective, and then my dribble-drive very effective. That's why my teammates get open shots."
Scoring binge: Fredette has scored in double figures in 34 straight games. His 34 points was most scored in this year's NCAA tournament. With seven 3-pointers, Fredette is the all-time leader in MWC history with 293, passing Utah's Nick Jacobsen. Fredette has connected on a 3-pointer in 28 straight games.
Field goal numbers: BYU is 10-1 this season when shooting 50 percent or better and shot 52.5 percent against Gonzaga. The Cougars are 11-0 this year when making 10 or more 3-pointers.
Impressive coaching: Rose is third among active NCAA coaches in winning percentage at .783 (159-44 record). North Carolina's Roy Williams is first at .799 (644-162) and Gonzaga's Mark Few is second at .792 (316-83).
Up next: Florida will be BYU's opponent in next week's Sweet 16. The Gators (28-7) defeated UCLA 73-65 on Saturday in Tampa to advance, with guard Irving Walker scoring 21 points.
The Gators won back-to-back NCAA titles in 2006 and 2007 under head coach Billy Donovan.
BYU is familiar with Florida after winning a double overtime thriller in the first round of last year's tournament. Fredette scored 37 points in that one.
The BYU-Florida matchup will be Thursday at New Orleans Arena, with CBS to announce the time later.
Two for the MWC: San Diego State (34-2) also qualified for the Sweet 16, outlasting Temple 71-64 in double overtime. Kawhi Leonard and Billy White each scored 16 points for the Aztecs, which move on to play UConn in Anaheim's West Regional.
Tip-ins: BYU's 32 wins is the most in school history. ... This will be BYU's second Sweet 16 appearance, the first coming in 1981. ... With three steals, Emery became the all-time leader in Mountain West Conference history in that category. ... The 45 points scored by BYU in the first half tied for the most points Gonzaga had allowed in the first half this season.