PROVO — In BYU’s 2½ years of playing in the West Coast Conference, there’s only one WCC team that the Cougars have not beaten.
That would be Saint Mary’s.
The Gaels, who are coming off a 61-43 loss at San Diego Thursday night, invade the Marriott Center Saturday (9 p.m. MST, ESPN2) for a late-night showdown.
It’s an important game in terms of the league race. Saint Mary’s (16-6, 6-3) is in third place in the WCC standings, while BYU is in fourth place (14-9, 6-4).
The Cougars are 0-4 against the Gaels since joining the WCC in 2011, including a heartbreaking 70-69 loss last January when Saint Mary’s guard, and Cougar-killer, Matthew Dellavedova buried a 35-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Well, Dellavedova has moved on to the NBA, playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But even without Dellavedova, the Gaels are tough to beat.
“They’re still running a lot of the same things,” said BYU coach Dave Rose. “Delly was so good at finding guys for easy baskets. Maybe some of those easy baskets are missing a little bit. But for the most part, defensively, they’re every bit as tough. They guard you basically the same way. Their big guys are really physical and strong.”
If the Cougars are to finally knock off Saint Mary’s, they know they will need to have a strong performance Saturday.
“We know the challenge that’s ahead of us,” said guard Tyler Haws, who scored 38 points in Thursday night’s win over Pacific. “It’s going to be a physical game, probably a lot more physical than the game (against Pacific). It’s going to be a fun environment to play in. We’ve got to play defense and figure out how to stop them and get them out of their comfort zone and what they like to do. We’ve got to keep building on what we did (Thursday) and keep sharing the ball and playing together.”
The Gaels are led by 6-foot-9 forward Brad Waldow, who averages 16.8 points per game and is shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor. Guard Stephen Holt averages 13.5 points and 4.9 assists.
BYU freshman Eric Mika, who tied his career-high with 20 points against Pacific, is looking forward to facing Waldow.
“He’s been there for a little while,” Mika said. “He’s a big guy, but we’ve played against big, physical teams. I’m excited. It will be fun.”
After Thursday’s game, Mika said he would be watching film that night of Waldow with assistant coach Mark Pope to prepare for the matchup.
Saint Mary’s physical style of play has caused problems for the Cougars in the past.
“I think we all know how Saint Mary’s plays. They do a great job of controlling tempo,” Rose said. “You have to be very disciplined on the defensive end to be better at the end shot clock than you are at the start. They will take opportunities in transition. It’s a really well-coached, disciplined, physical team.”