MORAGA, Calif. — The last time BYU and Saint Mary's met, on Jan. 16 at the Marriott Center, the Gaels' Matthew Dellavedova delivered a dramatic, 40-foot buzzer-beater.
Now, the Cougars are coming off the high of a buzzer-beater of their own as they visit Saint Mary's Thursday (9 p.m., MST, ESPN2).
BYU senior guard Craig Cusick swooped into the paint, snatched an offensive rebound out of the air, and scored the game-winning basket with two-tenths of a second remaining in a thrilling 70-68 victory over in-state rival Utah State Tuesday night at the Marriott Center.
It wasn't until after the post-game press conference that BYU officials told reporters that Cusick had learned earlier that day that his father, Randy, had been diagnosed with cancer.
"My dad wouldn't miss a game for anything, except for this, obviously," Craig Cusick told ESPN's SportsCenter Wednesday afternoon. "My dad was in my thoughts and in my prayers throughout the game. He gave me some encouragement before I went out there."
Randy Cusick watched the game from his bed at the hospital. Craig went to the hospital after the game to be by his dad's side.
Up until his game-winner, Cusick had gone 0-for-6 from the floor. He admitted it was tough coping with the emotions he was experiencing.
"It was really difficult," Cusick said. "My dad coached me growing up. He's my hero."
The victory over USU gave BYU its 20th win of the season. The Cougars are looking to finish the regular season strong and hoping that they can build on the momentum from Tuesday's emotional triumph.
"Anytime you win a close game, your guys' confidence level is good I think their spirits should be good," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "We look forward to a tough game Thursday. When you compete together as a team — and we competed hard for 40 minutes — a lot of guys got a chance to play. Hopefully, it brings our team together."
The Cougars would like nothing more than to avenge their gut-wrenching 70-69 setback against Saint Mary's last month.
"We're excited," said BYU guard Tyler Haws, who scored 27 points against the Aggies. "We're looking forward to that game."
But it won't be easy. Since joining the West Coast Conference last season, the Cougars have earned at least one victory over each of the other eight WCC teams except one — Saint Mary's. BYU is 0-3 against the Gaels during that span.
If Saint Mary's can beat BYU again, it will clinch at least the No. 2 seed in the upcoming WCC tournament in Las Vegas.
What's the key to recording an upset of the Gaels?
"Our defense has to be solid," Haws said. "We’ve got to be ready for a battle. But I feel really comfortable with the way our guys are playing right now and we're going to be ready for them."
Saint Mary's (22-5, 11-2) is the defending WCC regular-season and conference tournament champions. The Gaels are positioning themselves to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament if they don't win this year's WCC tournament.
A week ago, Saint Mary's lost at home to No. 3 Gonzaga, 77-60.
In the game against BYU in Provo, the Gaels fell behind by 16 points early on, then whittled away at the deficit. The two teams traded leads in the second half.
With 2.5 seconds remaining, Haws made a tough shot in the lane to give the Cougars a two-point advantage.
Then Dellavedova's halfcourt dagger broke BYU's heart.
On Tuesday, the Cougars almost squandered an 11-point second-half lead against the Aggies. Fortunately for BYU, Cusick came through with his last-second heroics.
"We couldn't put it away. You've got to give them credit," Haws said of USU. "They hit some big shots. We had some defensive letdowns. There's a lot of room to improve. This team is still improving and getting better. We're looking forward to Thursday, though."
Cougars on the air
BYU (20-8, 9-4) at Saint Mary's (22-5, 11-2)
McKeon Pavilion, Moraga, Calif.
9 p.m., MST
TV: ESPN2 Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
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