Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
BYU's #10 Matt Carlino ,left, puts in a shot around CSUSM's #33 Jacob Ranger as BYU plays Cal State San Marcos Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2011 in the Marriott Center in Provo. BYU won 79-51.

PROVO — BYU coach Dave Rose remembers well his last trip to McKeon Pavilion to take on St. Mary's back in 2005. Despite having a capacity of only 3,500 the then Cougar assistant found it to be a very difficult environment to play in.

The Cougars were able to mount a small lead early in that contest, but ultimately played victim to 25 team turnovers and other miscues to lose big 72-51. BYU went on to finish with a 9-21 record with Rose being named as head coach the following season.

A lot has changed since that time with BYU going on to six straight winning seasons, leading to multiple conference championships among other feats. St. Mary's, meanwhile, has continued with its winning tradition while still providing a surprisingly difficult environment to play in.

"It was a great atmosphere — it was packed with people hanging over the rails underneath the one end of the basket," said Rose. "In that setting I remember how difficult it was for us to score during different points in the game."

FIRST WCC GAME: Thursday night's game against the Gaels will mark the first-ever WestCoast Conference game for BYU with Rose and his team hoping for a strong audition. It won't be easy, however, as St. Mary's on the road should provide one of the stiffer tests of WCC play.

St. Mary's comes into the game with an impressive 11-2 record and a team that should give BYU all it can handle.

"I'm really impressed with how efficient (St. Mary's) is," observed Rose. "Their identity is probably defensively — their toughness — they only give up 56 points per game and they're good at controlling the tempo. They know how to win and they know where to go when they have big possessions."

The Gaels are led in scoring by 6-6, 240 forward Rob Jones who averages 14.0 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. They feature a big guard line with Matthew Dellavedova and Stephen Holt who are both 6-foot-4.

Dellavedova runs the point and averages 13.9 points and 6.3 assists per game.

"He really distributes the ball well and has a good shot," said Rose.

COMPETITIVE THROUGHOUT: Although the Cougars have won their last three games and seven of their last eight, they've struggled with how they've started games, particularly in recent games against Buffalo and Cal State San Marcos. In taking on a much better opponent than those on the road, Rose understands that getting off to a fast start is paramount.

"It's very important on the road to get out to a fast start," he said. "Why it's so important to get off to a fast start is that it controls the crowd a bit, and keeps them out of it a bit if you can get off to that fast start."

COMMON OPPONENTS: The Cougars and the Gaels have two common opponents on the year, fostering similar results. Both teams beat Weber State by double-digits while both teams lost recently to top-ten-ranked Baylor. BYU took on the Bears at home, losing 86-83 while St. Mary's faced took them on in Las Vegas, losing 72-59.

Cougars on the air

BYU (11-3) vs.

Saint Mary's (11-2)

Tonight, 9 p.m. MT

McKeon Pavilion, Moraga, Calif.


Radio: KSL 1160AM/102.7FM

email: [email protected]