PROVO — A Gael-force wind blew through the Marriott Center on Saturday night.
The No. 21 Saint Mary's College Gaels jumped out to a double-digit lead late in the first half, led by as many as 23 in the second half, then kept BYU at bay en route to a convincing 80-66 victory before a sellout crowd of 22,700.
It marked the first time the Cougars have dropped back-to-back home games since 2004. The loss was also a major setback to BYU's West Coast Conference championship hopes.
The Cougars (18-6 overall, 6-3 in the WCC) fell further behind the league-leading Gaels (21-2, 10-0).
Saint Mary's shot 56 percent for the game, while the Gaels' defense vexed BYU, which shot just 41 percent.
At times, it was reminiscent of the teams' last meeting, on Dec. 29 in Moraga, Calif., where Saint Mary's won, 98-82.
"Saint Mary's played terrific. They were outstanding, especially in the first half," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "They spread us out and had multiple players make big shots and make big plays and got us in a hole. They kind of got us where we were rushing everything again (offensively), like when we played them over there. A lot of that had to do with the fact that we got behind."
It was a physical battle that featured 48 fouls, including three technical fouls.
Guard Clint Steindl, who didn't play against the Cougars in December, came off the bench to score 16 points, with 14 of those coming in the first half on five 3-pointers. Steindl's ability to hit 3-pointers against BYU's zone defense forced the Cougars to switch to man-to-man.
"The game was going back and forth. He was able to get some real separation in the score," Rose said of Steindl. "He hit a big 3 in the corner and a couple of big 3's on the wing. Then we went to man and he hit another 3 when we gave help."
Forward Brad Waldow also gave BYU fits, scoring a game-high 19 points and pulling down nine rebounds.
The Cougars trailed by 12, 40-28, at halftime. But the Gaels extended their lead to 17 quickly in the second half after guard Matthew Dellavedova drew a questionable foul that prompted at least one fan to throw debris onto the floor. The officials called a technical foul on the crowd, and Dellavedova knocked down both free throws. Moments later, Jorden Page drilled a 3-pointer.
Suddenly, the Gaels led 45-28.
"They're a really good team. They were able to make those runs," said forward Noah Hartsock, who finished with 15 points. "And they're one of those teams when they make those runs, they're going to keep it going. They're not going to let you come back easily. That's what they did."
Things would only get worse for the Cougars, as Saint Mary's went up by as many as 23 points, 55-32.
BYU whittled that 23-point deficit to nine, at 70-61, with just under four minutes remaining, but couldn't get any closer.
During that stretch, guard Matt Carlino scored 10 straight points, mostly by penetrating and scoring layups. Carlino, who ended up with 15 points, was 0 for 5 from 3-point territory for the game.
"I couldn't shoot (from the outside)," Carlino said, "so I had to drive."
As a team, the Cougars continued to shoot poorly from the perimeter, hitting 2 of 13 from 3-point land. BYU has made only 11 of 73 3-pointers in its last four games.
"We need to shoot the ball better from the perimeter," Rose said. "We're capable of that. Right now, we're not shooting the ball as well as we're capable. In the second half, we had to figure out a different way to score. We've been pretty consistent throughout the years hitting shots. Right now, we're not shooting the ball as well as we're capable."
"We just need to knock them down," Carlino said. "Sometimes teams go through droughts. Ours is kind of coming at a tough spot. We'll be fine. We have a lot of great shooters on our team."
Waldow said the Gaels' game plan hinged on slowing down Brandon Davies, who scored 14, and Hartsock.
"We wanted to stop the inside scoring of Davies and Hartsock," he said. "If we stopped the inside scoring, we could make Carlino try to win the game for them. That was our goal."
Davies scored 28 points against Saint Mary's last month.
"Davies killed us last game, so we wanted to keep him under control," Waldow said.
BYU returns home Thursday (9 p.m., MST, ESPN2) for another big showdown against Gonzaga University.