LAS VEGAS — For the BYU women's basketball team, the next challenge in its quest for a West Coast Conference Tournament title and a NCAA Tournament automatic bid is a Saint Mary's team that's given the Cougars fits this season.
The Cougars and Gaels face each other in the WCC semifinals after both survived close contests in the quarterfinals. The two teams split a pair of regular-season games.
Here's a look at three keys for today's game.
1. Keep the Gaels off the free-throw line
Saint Mary's attempted, and made, more free throws than BYU in both of the teams' meetings this season, and in the Cougars' six-point loss to the Gaels a little over two weeks ago, it was by a wide margin.
In a 64-58 Saint Mary's win on Feb. 18, the Gaels hit 23 of 27 free throws to just 5 of 7 for BYU. In their first meeting, on Jan. 5 in Provo, Saint Mary's made 22 of 29 free throws compared to 17 of 23 for the Cougars in a 70-65 BYU victory.
Both teams make 72 percent of their free throws. If the Cougars can keep Saint Mary's from getting to the free-throw line so frequently, it boosts their chances in what should be a close matchup.
2. Stymie the Gaels offense
Saint Mary's has the top two shooters in the league — Stella Beck and Megan McKay both shoot 55 percent from the field — and are the top shooting team in the WCC (43.9 percent).
BYU, meanwhile, allows opponents to shoot only 36.2 percent from the field.
The Gaels, who average 70.9 points per game, also are the conference's top rebounding team, averaging a 10-plus rebounding margin per game and 13.9 offensive rebounds a contest. It will be a big challenge for BYU's Kalani Purcell, who leads the league in rebounds at 10.6 per game, and the Cougars' frontcourt.
BYU's defense will need to hold Saint Mary's under its shooting average and keep the rebounding numbers close.
3. Capitalize on Saint Mary's mistakes
The Cougars lead the league in steals, averaging 9.6 per game, while the Gaels have the WCC's worst turnover margin at minus-3.7.
Saint Mary's turned the ball over 22 times in its WCC quarterfinal win over Santa Clara, though the Broncos turned it over 20 times and held just a 23-20 edge in points off turnovers over the Gaels.
BYU will need to force Saint Mary's into mistakes and convert those into quick points on the other end.
Today's WCC women's tournament semifinals schedule
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 4 San Francisco, 1 p.m. MST; TV: BYUtv
No. 2 BYU vs. No. 3 Saint Mary's, 3 p.m.; TV: BYUtv