PROVO — Since BYU joined the West Coast Conference, there's just one team it hasn’t beaten.
That would be Saint Mary's.
The Cougars host the Gaels on Wednesday (9 p.m. MST, ESPNU) in a big, late-night WCC showdown. BYU, which currently sits in first place in the league standings, hasn't forgotten that Saint Mary's swept the season series last year.
"We're more fired up this game than we've been all year for any other game," said senior forward Brandon Davies. "Plus, it's the next game in the way and a battle to win this league. This is the most important game of our season right now."
Last season, Saint Mary's won both games, beating BYU in Moraga, Calif., 98-82, and downing the Cougars in Provo, 80-66.
What does Davies remember about those losses?
"That we got beat. We didn't get it done," he said. "They came and whooped us. They out-toughed us on both ends of the floor. All of us are determined to make sure that doesn't happen again."
Unfortunately for BYU, guard Matt Carlino left Tuesday's practice early due to upper back spasms. Coach Dave Rose explained that Carlino was fine in the morning, then his back "locked up" later that day. Carlino, who has received treatment for the injury, has dealt with back issues before, but not this season, Rose said.
Meanwhile, Rose hopes that his team, which is unbeaten in league play so far, doesn't focus on avenging those defeats to Saint Mary's.
"I hope those types of things don't determine how hard you play," Rose said. "I hope our team plays with consistency as far as their effort is concerned. This will be a really competitive game. Saint Mary's is a team that expects to go on the road and win. They've been really successful with it. They were really successful in here last year. Hopefully our guys are ready."
Guard Tyler Haws, who was serving an LDS mission last season, knows all about what happened a year ago.
"That game last year is still lingering around with us," Haws said. "We have a lot to prove. We're a different team. It's going to be a battle."
Saint Mary's is also the last team to beat BYU at the Marriott Center, last Jan. 28. The Cougars have won 12 consecutive home games since.
The Gaels won both the WCC regular-season and WCC Tournament championships last season under coach Randy Bennett.
What makes Saint Mary's such a challenge?
"Their toughness," Haws said. "They're going to keep battling and keep coming at you the whole game. ... They're just tough guys. We've got to be ready to play."
Rose has known Bennett for a long time.
"His system is really sound that he runs," Rose said of Bennett. "His players really believe in that system. They play hard. They play for each other. They're unselfish. And they're really consistent in how they do things. You can see it night in and night out. He recruits really talented guys who are tough. That toughness pays off."
The Cougars are looking to slow down senior guard Matthew Dellavedova, who averages 17.3 points per game.
"Dellavedova is a great guy on the pick-and-roll and can shoot the ball," Haws said, adding that the goal is to "make him hit tough shots and contain his penetration. He likes to come off those ball screens and hit his big guys for easy layups. One of our main focuses is to make him hit tough shots the whole night."
"I'm going to be out there a lot guarding ball screens," Davies said. "That's what they do and they're really good at it. They all build off each other. It's a big part of our defense, is getting them stopped on the pick-and-roll."
Rose is impressed with Dellavedova.
"We've learned how good of a player he is. He's probably one of the best pick-and-roll point guards in the country," he said. "If you take one thing away from him, he's really good at finding another thing. We're going to have to change things up on him. We probably won't be doing anything that he hasn't seen before. He has great experience. Hopefully we can maybe get him to speed up a little bit. He does a great job of controlling the pace and his pace."
In anticipation of Wednesday's game, BYU students have been camped out in front of the Marriott Center, braving bitter-cold temperatures, to secure front row seats.
"We have the greatest fans in the world. They're like that for every game. They're always supporting us," Davies said. "We always see them in their tents, out there freezing. We're complaining just walking to class and they're out there sleeping in it. We have nothing but love for our fans."16 comments on this story
NOTES: Rose is seeking his 200th career victory Wednesday. He has a 199-58 record in his eight seasons at the helm.
BYU has announced that Wednesday's game is a "whiteout," and fans are encouraged to wear white.
Davies scored 28 points, grabbed seven rebounds and had five steals last year at Saint Mary's.
Gaels and Cougars on the air
Saint Mary's (13-4, 2-1) at BYU (14-4, 4-0)
Marriott Center, Provo
9 p.m. MST
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
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