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3-pointers key for a BYU breakthrough

OKLAHOMA CITY — Now we're down to the gritty business of folks winning just one game.

BYU and Florida will kick off that charge today before anybody else in the NCAA Tournament when they tip it this morning in the event's earliest game.

For BYU, winning just one game has become Mount Everest. In Florida, coach Billy Donovan has won twice as many NCAA games as a Gator (22) than BYU has in all its storied history (11).

In No. 10-seeded Florida, the No. 7 seed Cougars will face a team with similar style and weapons they've seen the past two weeks in MWC play.

"They are almost identical to New Mexico," according to assistant head coach Dave Rice. "They are very athletic; they like to get to the offensive boards; they have a 6-foot-9 wingman who can shoot it. They are very talented."

Jimmer Fredette says Florida is a clone of San Diego State and UNLV.

In watching Florida's shootaround on Wednesday, you could see the similarities with the Lobos.

The big difference comparing the Gators with New Mexico is that Florida may not have the overall accuracy of the Lobos from beyond the arc. UNM shot 37 percent and Florida gives you 33 percent from distance.

But that could be a little misleading. Florida played in the SEC, in a division won by Kentucky. And remember when UNLV made nine treys on BYU in the first half back in February in the Thomas & Mack? Well, those Rebels were 33 percent 3-point shooters, too.

It would just be BYU's luck to have Florida come out and shoot and make 3s from all over the floor at the Ford Center.

New Mexico had Roman Martinez, a 42 percent 3-point shooter, and Phillip McDonald wasn't close behind at 39 percent. The Lobos also featured player of the year Darrington Hobson and point guard Dairese Gary, who I think was the most valuable player on that team.

Florida's point guard, 5-foot-8 Erving Walker, is athletic like Gary, and he'll give BYU fits with his quickness of the dribble. But he's not as strong as Gary, nor does he shoot or finish as well as the powerfully built Gary.

I think Florida's center, 6-10 Vernon Macklin, is the mirror image of Lobo post starter A.J. Hardeman. You could put this pair in a closet and pick the first one out the door and he'd be the same guy.

Where Florida might give the Cougars their biggest challenge is at small forward, where Tyler Haws might find himself going against 6-9 Chandler Parsons, the Gators' best 3-point threat at 39 percent.

Although the guards, Walker and Kenny Boyton, have made 37 and 35 treys, respectively, Walker is a 35 percent guy and Boyton is only making 25 percent.

I think Florida will attack BYU's post defense inside the paint by setting up against Chris Miles and Noah Hartsock, then go after reserves Brandon Davies and Jonathan Tavernari. BYU's backcourt has a huge advantage in made 3-pointers. Fredette and Jackson Emery rank first and second in the MWC in 3-point accuracy at 45 and 43 percent, respectively. Fredette has 73 treys and Emery has 80. Take any one of them and they've made twice as many as Florida's best.

If this game has one single discrepancy, it would be BYU's dominance with the 3-ball — about nine percent better.

But again, Florida's 33 percent accuracy came against defenses by Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Tennessee in the SEC, while BYU's came against Wyoming, Air Force and TCU of the MWC.

But I think the Cougars will get in trouble if Fredette tries to do too much. BYU needs a 15- to 17-assist game.

BYU is favored to win this game. Most experts who review BYU's lofty production from the field, foul line and win margin predict this Cougar squad will break the long drought in this event and advance here to the second round.

Another key is BYU's start.

We've seen plenty of games this year when the Cougars throttled teams out of the chute.

We've also got a taste of that loss at UNLV in February, when everything the Rebels threw in the air went in and they raced to a 47-18 lead of 29 points in just 15 minutes.

That loss in Las Vegas was a copy of the disastrous start BYU had in the first round last year at Philadelphia against Texas A&M, when the Aggies crushed a sputtering BYU team in the first 10 minutes and led 42-30 at the half.

Dave Rose, still looking for his first NCAA Tournament win, is telling his team the past is the past and this appearance in the NCAAs is their opportunity. Said Fredette of those who have lost since 1993: "Those teams in the past have nothing to do with us. It's a new team, it's a new time, and we need to not think about it at all."

The prediction? BYU 75, Florida 69.

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com