Jimmer Fredette scored a career-high 52 points in No. 8 BYU's 87-76 win over nemesis New Mexico in the Mountain West Conference semifinals Friday night.
The nation's leading scorer made sure the Cougars didn't lose to the Lobos for a third time, breaking his own tournament record of 45 points set exactly a year earlier and scoring a career-best 33 points in the first half.
The Cougars (30-3) will play the San Diego State-UNLV winner Saturday night in the title game.
The Lobos' chances of a third win over BYU — and perhaps an accompanying NCAA bid — took a dive when their pinballing point guard, Dairese Gary, went down with a right knee injury in the opening minutes of the second half. He was taken to the locker room to a standing ovation from fans of both teams.
With Gary on the bench grimacing in pain, the Lobos (21-12) hung in gallantly but missed their best player and leader down the stretch when the Cougars pulled away.
Afterward, the BYU players lined up to hug Gary as they filed off the court.
Fredette, who scored 32 and 33 points in two blowout losses to the Lobos during the conference season, had 33 points by halftime as BYU took a 47-42 lead into the locker room.
Coming into the game, BYU was 29-1 against everybody else but 0-2 against New Mexico, which beat the Cougars 86-77 in Albuquerque and 82-64 last week in Provo, Utah, when BYU was without center Brandon Davies, who was suspended for the remainder of the season for violating the school's honor code.
Davies was decked out in a striped sweater and slacks Friday night and handed out cups of water to the starters during timeouts. After coach Dave Rose was finished with his instructions, Davies would dole out tips to freshman Kyle Collinsworth, who replaced him in the lineup, giving the Cougars a quick, four-guard look.
With or without Davies in the BYU lineup, the Lobos had found ways to win before. On this night, though, they had no answer for Fredette without Gary.
The Lobos were down 47-44 when Gary injured his knee cutting across the lane with 18:32 left. A senior, Gary is the Lobos' top perimeter defender and the one who sets up everything on offense. He was coach Steve Alford's first recruit at New Mexico.
Gary limped back onto the floor during a timeout with 15:19 left, his knee wrapped in ice and cellophane, receiving condolences from his teammates and coaches. During subsequent timeouts, he hopped on and off the court with his teammates' assistance.
Fredette missed his first three shots of the second half and didn't score until his breakaway layup off a steal with 13:08 left.
The Cougars started to pull away after consecutive steals by Jackson Emery. Both times he fed Fredette on the break, the first one for a layup. Collinsworth tipped in Fredette's errant 3-pointer on the second one and was fouled by Drew Gordon, his third, as BYU took a 62-58 lead with 9 minutes left.
The Lobos then started making mistakes at the offensive end, and the Cougars took advantage.
Fredette's deep 3-pointer that made it 71-63 gave him 47 points, breaking the tournament single-game record and matching his season high set against Hawaii on Dec. 4.
His three-point play with 4:24 left gave him his first 50-point performance.
Emery added 14 points for BYU and Drew Gordon led New Mexico with 17.
Even without beating them on this night, the Lobos hurt the Cougars' hopes of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament as BYU fell from third in the rankings following its 18-point loss to New Mexico nine days earlier.
The Cougars own the fourth-highest RPI in the nation and could gain the league's highest seed ever when the selection committee announces its brackets Sunday. Last year, the Lobos earned a No. 3 seed.
Despite their two wins and one close call against the Cougars, the Lobos might be on the outside looking in this year, and Alford has been saying his team deserves a bid because the league has the fourth-best RPI in the nation behind only the Big 12, Big Ten and Big East.