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NCAA Tournament: Florida Gators tilt BYU Cougar Jimmer Fredette's gyroscope

NEW ORLEANS — For the moment, it was just the two of them, the legend and the kid with the audacity to stare it down.

Everything else faded into the shadows. It no longer mattered how big the game was, or how much it meant, or how many people might be watching it. It was just one-on-one, Jimmer and the jammer, in one more dance down the hardwood.

And then Jimmer Fredette, the most talked-about player in the NCAA Tournament, pulled up and launched another 3-point attempt, and Kenny Boynton stuck his hand in front of Fredette's face one more time, and once again the ball clanked harmlessly off the rim.

Advantage, Boynton.

Victory, Florida.

Now this may sound silly to some people, because Fredette ended up with 32 points, six more than his nation-leading average. But the reason Florida still lives in this tournament, the reason the Gators have advanced to the Elite Eight, is because of the defensive job Boynton did.

For 40 minutes Boynton was tighter on Fredette than a kid's T-shirt.

He was zoom-lens, smell-the-aftershave, Dancing With the Stars close. To Fredette, it must have felt as if Boynton had taken up residence somewhere between his chin and the tape that covered it.

Again it is odd to say, but there may never have been such a defensive job on a player who scored 32 points. It wasn't about the points; it was about the performance.

Boynton was a glove. He was a tourniquet.

There is a large tattoo across Boynton's chest that looks like a textbook, and you wonder if there was a point when Fredette thought it was his tattoo.

Five days after he lay crumpled on the floor of the St. Pete Times Forum with his ankle on fire, Boynton risked being embarrassed on national television by taking on the mighty Jimmer.

Given Fredette's reputation, this was like playing against Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill and the ghost of Pete Maravich. For most of the season Fredette has left opponents looking powerless. Boynton not only survived, his team won the night, 83-74 in overtime.

Yeah, yeah. Jimmer had 32, but even his biggest boosters would admit this game wasn't for his greatest hits collection.

Consider:

• It took Fredette 13 minutes, 47 seconds before he could coax the ball into the basket for the first time.

• It took Fredette 29 shots to score his 32. This season he scored 47 against San Diego State with 28 shots.

• A 40 percent 3-point shooter, Fredette was 3-of-15 against the Gators, 20 percent.

• In overtime Fredette did not score at all.

"Kenny did an outstanding job limiting his open looks," teammate Chandler Parsons said. "If you look back, pretty much every shot (Fredette) took was off-balance."

It's a tough task, guarding a legend. Blink, and the scoreboard changes. Lean, and he is past you. Rest, and he scores over you.

For Boynton, this was his finest moment. He turned this game into Fredette's final act. Good night, good luck.

"I knew he was going to shoot the ball a lot," Boynton said. "Before the game, I thought that if he was going to score 30, I wanted him to have to shoot a lot and to shoot off-balance. It was different, because I've never played against a team that ran every play through one player. He shot every time down the floor.

"I could tell he was getting frustrated. Late in the game he kept crying to the refs. Every time he shot, he'd say 'and one … and one.' "

Remember, this is a player used to shooting like a gambler feeding coins into slot machines. He has faced box-and-one defenses and triangle-and-twos and matchup zones and whatever else you can imagine.

Florida mainly sent Boynton after him, however, so it could concentrate on shutting down the rest of the BYU players. And it worked. None of Jimmer's teammates reached double figures.

Fredette did, but it took four points of effort for every two.

"I take a lot of pride in my defense," Boynton said. "That's my challenge. Alex (Tyus) and Vern (Macklin) are here to get the rebounds, and Chandler and Erving (Walker) are here to score the points.

"I wasn't worried about this. I really wasn't."

In some ways, that sounds like the rest of the Gators, too. They don't blink in the bright lights, and they don't seem concerned about the altitude.

Even when they have hit their scoring lulls, and missed too many free throws, and turned over the ball too often, they have won.

Soon eight teams will be left.

Three more games to win.

As of now, it isn't just Boynton who is close. It's the Gators.

NCAA Tournament: Florida Gators tilt BYU Cougar Jimmer Fredette's gyroscope 03/24/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 25, 2011 12:51am]
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