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BYU basketball notebook: Cougars enjoying its rare trip to NCAA's Sweet 16

PROVO — Since dismantling Gonzaga last Saturday by 22 points in Denver, BYU has been savoring the feeling of being a Sweet 16 team.

Can you blame the Cougars? After all, it's been 30 years since they last went this deep in the NCAA Tournament.

After returning home late Saturday night to the sight of thousands of jubilant fans at the airport, BYU players and coaches rested on Sunday.

"I just kind of relaxed," said guard Jimmer Fredette, who scored 34 against the 'Zags. "I didn't talk to anybody, just hung out. I didn't really go out and do anything, just enjoy the victory. On campus, people are really excited. I tried to stay away from as many people as I could. Everyone is loving what's going on here at BYU. The campus is very vibrant right now for BYU basketball."

While euphoria remains high, the Cougars returned to practice at the Marriott Center Monday in preparation for Thursday's game (5:27 p.m., MT, TBS) against No. 2 seeded Florida.

"Practice went really well. Last Monday we were a little tired and sore from the Mountain West Conference Tournament," said guard Jackson Emery. "Today we really got after it. I was really impressed with the guys, just because of the excitement right now. We know we're in the Sweet 16 and guys are giving a little more than usual. We're still enjoying it to a point, but now we're refocusing on playing against Florida."

While the spotlight is brighter than ever on BYU, Emery said he and his teammates are taking it in stride.

"There is a lot of emotion. But this is March Madness. This is what you expect. There are things where you don't know what's going to happen in this tournament. I hope we're used to this attention. Jimmer's gotten a lot of attention all year and our team has. We just play basketball. We don't worry about that outside stuff."

"I think we're all pretty excited. We've been on an emotional high and we're coming down from that," said forward Noah Hartsock. "We realize have a good chance right now to do something special for our conference and our team.. We're pretty excited about it."

BYU coach Dave Rose, who has plenty of Sweet 16 experience as a player, understands what his players are going through.

"They're excited. I don't know that you can be overexcited to play," he said. "What you hope is that they play with no fear, that they're in position to understand that with a couple of more wins, that's the ultimate goal, to get to the Final Four and see what happens there. This team has done a great job of taking each game one at a time. On a big stage, as a coaching staff, you feel so pleased when your players can play their best on a big stage. You hope that happens again, that you repeat that."

SWEET FOR MWC: The Mountain West Conference has sent a pair of teams to the Sweet 16 — BYU and San Diego State. That's the same number as the Big East, which had 11 teams invited to the NCAA Tournament.

"We can all be really proud of how our league has done in the NCAA Tournament," Rose said. "It's pleasing for our team and our staff that San Diego State's in the Sweet 16 because we know how good they are. It's nice to be able to show the rest of the country how good the teams in our league are. I'm happy for (SDSU coach Steve Fisher) and wish them the best."

MORE PRAISE FOR JIMMER: For months, Fredette has been drawing high praise from NBA stars like Kevin Durrant and Deron Williams. The latest to chime in is the Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose, who played with Fredette last summer during Team USA training camp.

"He has not surprised me at all with what he is doing this year," Rose said."I love watching him play. The way he played in the USA thing, he was great; he played with a lot of confidence. He is not intimidated by anyone. You could tell he wanted to be there and I am happy for him."

When asked about Fredette's potential as an NBA player, Rose said, "I don't know, we'll have to see. I don't see why he can't be really good at the next level with the way he shoots. But he is a great player right now, he is leading his team the way that he is supposed to and he's a great scorer."

NOTABLE: Fredette is a finalist for the Naismith player of the year award. Text 'Vote' to 345345 to cast a vote for him ... BYU's all-time record in the NCAA Tournament is 14-28 ... Dating back to 2010, the Cougars have won three of their last four NCAA Tournament games.

email: jeffc@desnews.com