NEW ORLEANS - The biggest question for the first Southeast regional semifinal game may not be how Florida will handle NCAA scoring leader Jimmer Fredette. It is how BYU will cope with Florida's frontcourt.
Last year, Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin combined for 42 points and 26 rebounds in the Gators' first-round double-overtime loss to the Cougars. Parsons and Macklin have improved significantly since then, while Tyus pulled down a season-high 13 rebounds against UCLA last Saturday. BYU will play without its leading rebounder and by far its best post defender, forward Brandon Davies.
"I'm really proud of those guys," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "The one thing you want to see as a coach is guys get better. They have individually gotten better and our team has gotten better and they've been a big part of that."
Macklin has become an accomplished post scorer, adept at finishing with his array of short hooks and bank shots.
Parsons does a little bit of everything, operating as a point forward at times, draining key 3-point shots and slamming home offensive rebounds.
Tyus does the dirty work, cleaning up the glass and running the floor with abandon.
"Trying to get offensive rebounds and trying to do well on defense and trying to bring energy is something that comes natural for me," said Tyus, who has thrived in UF's win-first environment even though his scoring numbers are the lowest since his freshman year. "I look forward to doing those things. I feel like it's helped us get to this point. I'm really happy about it."
BYU is 5-2 since Davis was suspended for the rest of the year for having premarital sex, but the losses were loud. New Mexico out-rebounded the Cougars 36-25 in a 82-64 upset in Provo, Utah. San Diego State's imposing frontcourt of Billy White and Kawhi Leonard put up 41 points and 20 rebounds in a 72-54 Mountain West tournament championship game blowout.
The Cougars, who start three guards and swingman Charles Abouo, will be looking up at the Gators on the court, if not the scoreboard. Forward Noah Hartsock (6-8), who averages 8.6 points and 5.9 rebounds, is their only key contributor taller than 6-6.
Florida counters with five players at least 6-8 in its eight-man rotation.
Still, Donovan cautioned against reading too much into the size advantage.
"They are a physical team," Donovan said. "They're a very aggressive team. They got a big taste of (success) last year, and when you have 31 wins and are in the Sweet 16, they're a better team than they were a year ago."
Fredette is certainly better, averaging 28.8 points. He has scored 30 or more in six of the seven games Davies has missed and poured in 37 against Florida last season.
The Gators may focus on BYU's other four starters and force Fredette, a 6-5 sharpshooter with unlimited range and a penchant for drawing fouls, to try to beat them by himself. He scored 33 in the loss to New Mexico and 30 in the loss to San Diego State, going 10 for 26 from the floor in the former and 10 of 25 in the latter.
"I've seen both ways," Fredette said. "Sometimes they'll try to let me get my points and then stop everyone else, or really double-team me hard and let the other guys beat them. It just depends on the team. You've got to read what they are doing and take what the defense gives you and see if you can win the game."
The Gators received good news Wednesday when Kenny Boynton, their best perimeter defender, practiced at full speed for the first time since spraining an ankle against UCLA. Although no one can stop Fredette one-on-one, Boynton matches up with him better than anyone else on the team.
"Today (Boynton) was full go," Donovan said. "He was in full contact. He appeared to be moving well, has not said or given me any indication he's having any issues or any problems with his ankle. We expect him to be fine tomorrow."
BYU averages 23 3-point attempts and makes 8.4 per game. … BYU point Jackson Emery, a tough defender, averages 2.8 steals. … Florida has been to the Final Four three times under Donovan. BYU has not been past the Sweet 16 since Danny Ainge led it to the Elite 8 in 1981.