BYU NO practice-2.jpg
BYU's head coach Dave Rose chats with Jimmer Fredette as the team warms up during practice at the New Orleans Arena Tuesday, March 22, 2011. MARK JOHNSTON/Daily Herald

NEW ORLEANS - Some people just don't get it, and probably never will.

BYU is in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1981. The Cougars rolled up 32 wins and are led by college basketball's most dynamic player, Jimmer Fredette.

And still, there are those who only think of BYU as that strange religious school in the Rocky Mountains with a basketball team led by a bunch of pasty white, prematurely balding, aging overachievers.

It's tough to overcome the prejudice of decades of futility. Remember, BYU's win over Florida in last year's NCAA tourney was the first for the Cougars since 1993. And when you're talking the Southeast Conference, you're talking loads and loads of history and success.

Still, based on the Florida media's questions in Wednesday's news conference, you get the sense that BYU is facing a better team from the mighty SEC and is lucky to be here.

Oh, you mean the SEC that has the same number of teams in the Sweet 16 as the Mountain West Conference? The SEC with Vanderbilt, a No. 5 seed, getting beat by No. 12 Richmond and Tennessee, a No. 9 seed, losing by 30 points to No. 8 seed Michigan in the first round?

Yes, that SEC.

There were questions at the news conference about Florida's 2006 and 2007 national championships, and about when Florida coach Billy Donovan accepted the Orlando Magic job for a few days back in 2007, and if Donovan could compare himself as a player to Fredette.

There weren't a lot of questions about BYU vs. Florida, 5:27 p.m. MDT, a berth in the Elite 8 on the line.

It's not just about the basketball, either. Mike Bianchi, a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, asked BYU head coach Dave Rose why he couldn't have just let Brandon Davies "slide" instead of suspending him for his Honor Code violation.

Rose talked about how committed the BYU players and students are, and then "I respect that it's hard for others to understand."

Bianchi asked Florida players Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin if there would be anybody left on the Gator roster if they were held to the same standard as Davies. And then another question for Donovan, on if he could recruit any players at all under BYU's standards.

After giggles and knowing smiles, the players and Donovan wisely declined to comment.

Parsons did say: "I mean, rules are rules, so he (Davies) knew what he was doing. I mean, it's something that we can't worry about really because he's not playing in the game and that's really none of my business. ... Yeah, that's it."

If Bianchi's questions - and mocking tone -- reflect the general thoughts of the SEC media and fans, then it's no wonder they don't think the Cougars are for real.

A moral code is cute and all, but as old-fashioned and out-of-date as rotary phones and the milk man.

Athletes are in college to win, at whatever cost. That's proven over and over again every year.

No reporter would ask a coach publically to let it "slide" if one of his players was arrested for possession of a controlled substance. Or drunk driving.

But the Mormon religion and the Honor Code, apparently, is fair game.

Hey, if Bianchi is really interested in what makes BYU players tick, he can show up and watch them today.

That, or someone can send the LDS missionaries over to his office.

The Florida players are believers, having lost to BYU in double overtime in last year's NCAA tournament. They know the Cougars are fast, tenacious and can shoot the ball. They know Fredette's long-distance range changes the way you defend.

"People always underestimate everyone on their team," Parsons said.

Donovan and his team know how good BYU is, how athletic they are.

Others might need some more convincing.

Did you happen to see this week's Sports Illustrated? The cover photo has Fredette levitating about four feet off the floor in taking a jumper against Gonzaga. Charles Abouo - I've got a five-dollar bill for the first opposing coach who can pronounce his name correctly in a press conference - is as athletic as they come, as is freshman Swiss Army knife Kyle Collinsworth. Jackson Emery can destroy a great offensive player with his quick hands and tenaciousness.

BYU belongs here in the Sweet 16. They earned it. They aren't going to be intimidated by the moment, or the athleticism of an SEC team, or questions about their curious Honor Code.

When it's game time, they'll put five talented basketball players on the floor, just like the other guys.

And they can beat you silly.

Daily Herald Sports Editor Darnell Dickson can be reached at 801-344-2555 or by e-mail at ddickson@heraldextra.com

 

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