Send Jimmer packing, or the Gators go home

Out in Denver, one of the writers called it “The Jimmer Shimmer.” Indeed, BYU’s shooting star fairly sparkles in the constellation of NCAA tournament jewels. The way he strokes a three-pointer from a different area code, raining shock-and-awe bombs on the opposition is eye-catching and colorful, almost with the showbiz quality of an Evel Knievel leaping over cars on his bike.

Maybe it’s partly the name, one of a kind, a distinctly pleasing phonetic aberration that seems to connote a trademark of originality. Yeah, there probably aren’t any other Chandlers in the Sweet Sixteen, either, but there may not be another Jimmer in the entire world. Fredette owns that trademark. And it is full of fire and ice.

Shooters have that certain gunslinger swagger. There is a super-hero quality to Jimmer Fredette, not unlike a certain quarterback who once roamed The Swamp and is now employed in the Rockies. Indeed, there have already been comparisons to Tim Tebow and The Jimmer, who share a common commitment to their owner personal brand faith and the same platinum work ethic. They both transcend their sport.

Last year Jimmer was the executioner who slayed the Gators with a 37-point explosion and sent them packing. Frankly, Billy Donovan’s team a year ago just seemed happy to have qualified for The Dance. This year it’s different. When they play Thursday night, it becomes personal and the expectations of these Gators far exceed those who made the early exit in 2010.

The Jimmer must go down, or the Gators go home. He can get his 35 and they can still win, but they can’t let him take over the game, nor can they afford to take their eyes off of his teammates and let one of them sneak in the back door.

Donovan speaks with a certain confidence, now that guard Kenny Boynton has two good wheels and is back on the court practicing. Still, it will probably take more than him to get the job done on Fredette.

I look for Jimmer to draw lots of attention, including a switch off to Scottie Wilbekin and even a 3-2 zone with the 6-10 Chandler Parsons as the centerpiece so that he can pose a taller obstacle over which Fredette must shoot.

Parsons thinks BYU is anything but a one-man team and remembers it was mostly their own self-inflicted wounds that beat the Gators last year.

“We had so many careless turnovers where it led to easy baskets for them,” said Parsons. “People always underestimate everyone on their team. And I think we’ve got a good understanding going in there how good they are from playing them last year. And it’s just not Jimmer Fredette, the other guys are very good players and they understand their role, and they don’t get a lot of credit, but we’re not just focused on Jimmer, we’re focused on their entire team.”

Donovan also feels there are more Cougars to worry about.

“I think we did a pretty good job of defending Fredette last year,” Donovan said earlier in the week. “I think in regulation, he had 23 points, but then he exploded in overtime and ended up with 37. If you look at the stats sheet, it was really the other players. They made 10 three-point shots last year and Fredette made three of them, including a few big ones in the second overtime when they extended their lead. There were definitely a lot of other players on that roster that played well.”

Actually, I feel the matchup favors Florida because of the Gators’ defensive balance and depth. It rarely gets talked about, but the job defensive aide Larry Shyatt has done this year and the way Donovan has masterfully substituted may be the reason the Gators are where they are. They both spread around their defensive wealth and there really not a weak link, even if Erving Walker’s 5-8 height is a bit of a liability (he makes up for it in steals).

They block shots, they dive for loose balls, cut off passes in the lane, defend belly button-to-belly button, challenge each inch of the hardwood. They play defense like it was their territorial imperative.

Consider that remarkable stat: The UF squad leads the nation on fewest fouls and no Gator player has fouled out the entire season. They came close against UCLA last weekend in Tampa when both Vernon Macklin and Patric Young got their fourth personal midway through the second half in a game where the girth of Joshua Smith created havoc in the paint. But in a way, that played into Florida’s strength as well: Billy D. can go 10 deep in his roster, which almost no other team in the Sweet Sixteen can do.

“Our depth helped,” said Donovan said. “(Erik) Murphy came in and made a big three-point shot, and we were able to work through those last six minutes with Patric and Vernon who had four fouls so we could maintain a front court with no one sitting on the bench because he fouled out.”

The TV networks always chase the shiniest objects, like a big bass rising out of the river to snatch a silver spoon, and they will no doubt do that Thursday night in New Orleans.

The Jimmer will get the glimmer without question. What the Florida Gators have to do is focus on their assignment and not be blinded by the glare. If they do, their defensive guile and depth will wear down the Cougars and return the favor by sending The Jimmer packing this time.