The Saint Mary's Gaels are just one of those teams you love to hate. They have been a thorn in the side of the Cougars ever since BYU left the Mountain West for the West Coast Conference. They are one of those gritty, hard-nosed, well-coached teams that grinds it out on every possession. They scratch and claw and do whatever is necessary to win games. They remind me a lot of the Rick Majerus-coached Utah teams in the way they approach the game.
Saint Mary's is really good at home, but it has lost there three times this season, so it's not an impossible task to beat them. The best way to beat the Gaels is to slow down the pace of the game and turn it into a half-court affair. Use length to double the Gaels' best offensive player Brad Waldow, but make sure it isn't the guy guarding Stephen Holt. Holt shoots 43.9 percent from behind the arc in nearly four attempts a game. Holt can also beat you off the dribble, so he needs to be contained. The last thing you want to do is foul him though, since Holt shoots 83 percent from the free-throw line.
The other guy who can beat you from the outside for the Gaels is Kerry Carter. All he looks to do is shoot the three, and he does it pretty well. Even though he only attempts about seven shots a game, five of them are from distance, and he drains more than 40 percent of them.
As for Waldow, he is a beast on the block all the way down to fang-decorated mouth guard. Waldow loves contact and knows how to use his big body to create space on the offensive end. If he gets deep position on the block, it is best to foul him since he isn't a great free-throw shooter. The best way to slow him down is to just limit his touches.
The only other player who is efficient on offense is Beau Levesque. He can shoot some from the outside but is very streaky. He's a hard-working player who can do a bit of everything for the Gaels.
Saint Mary's only plays two other guys meaningful minutes, and neither Jordan Giusti nor James Walker III shoot well. Giusti is 36.6 percent from the field for the season, while Walker makes just 35.7 percent of his shots from the floor.
When the Gaels are on defense, the Utes need to attack the glass because Saint Mary's is undersized and doesn't rebound the ball very well. In fact, Waldow (7.6) and Levesque (5.4) are the only Gaels who average more than 3.9 boards a night. Even though they are small, Saint Mary's is a solid defensive team because of the players' toughness. The guys who stand out the most on "D" are Levesque and Giusti. Levesque is long and athletic and can be used to guard a number of positions while Giusti is just all over the place. He is like a wet blanket for opposing guards or a bad cold you just can't shake.
Saint Mary's is a tough team, but the Utes have plenty of talent to go in and get a win. After all, the Cougars beat the Gaels twice, including a nail-biter on the road.
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company