We were a couple of steps slow in everything we did. We had a hard time making a basket at the start of the game. It’s tough. —BYU basketball coach Dave Rose
LAS VEGAS — In the first-ever West Coast Conference Tournament showdown between BYU and Saint Mary’s, Monday night’s semifinal matchup resembled this season’s regular-season meetings.
Except, believe it or not, this one was inordinately worse for the Cougars.
The efficient Gaels out-executed cold-shooting BYU once again, jumping out to a big first-half lead and steamrolling to an 81-50 victory at Orleans Arena.
It marked the first time Cougar coach Dave Rose has lost three times in a single season to the same opponent and it was Rose’s most lopsided loss — 31 points — as BYU’s coach. The previous worst setback came in a 70-41 setback at UNLV in 2008.
“We were a couple of steps slow in everything we did," Rose said. "We had a hard time making a basket at the start of the game. It’s tough. You’re trying to keep the guys up, keep them motivated, keep them encouraged and it’s not going your way. This is a young team that gets a lot of energy from scoring points and it’s hard to score against these guys.”
During the regular season, No. 19 ranked Saint Mary’s swept the series, defeating the Cougars by the same margin — 13 points — in Moraga, 81-68, and in Provo, 70-57. The average score of the three games was 77-58.
This time, the Gaels simply manhandled BYU in a contest that was never close.
With the win, Saint Mary’s (28-3) advanced to the WCC Tournament championship game while the Cougars (22-11) were sent home.
Down by 16 at halftime, BYU’s deficit continued to grow early in the second half. The Gaels made 15 of their first 17 shots and eventually went up by as many 35 points, 71-36.
"We played well and it's nice to play well in that game because it doesn't always go that way," said Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett. "we shot 70 percent in the second half so it's an absurd number."
Saint Mary’s, which is No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense, stifled BYU’s offense from start to finish.
Gael center Jock Landale scored a game-high 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while Emmett Naar added 12 points and dished out 11 assists. Calvin Hermanson drilled four 3-pointers and finished with 14 points.
TJ Haws scored a team-high 14 points for BYU while Elijah Bryant recorded 11 points and Eric Mika had 10. As a team, BYU had just five assists.
"We did a good job executing and kind of helping each other out when it came to utilizing the 3-point line and stuff like that," said Landale.
Saint Mary’s shot 56 percent (29 of 52) for the game, compared to 32 percent (19 of 60) for BYU. The Cougars were 4 of 17 from 3-point territory while the Gaels were 13 of 25 from distance.
The Gaels took control of the game from the outset. BYU missed its first five shots from the field and made only 1 of its first 12 and 3 of its first 17.
“I’m disappointed in how we responded to challenges early in that first half," Rose said. "When the game got away from us, every single thing they do in practice and work on, they were able to kind of pick us apart. It seemed like we got a little bit slower as the game went on as far as trying to react to what they were doing. Congratulations to Saint Mary’s. It should be a great championship game (Tuesday).”
Landale scored the Gaels’ first six points and midway through the half, Saint Mary’s had a double-digit advantage, 19-7.
After getting down 25-11, the Cougars scored back-to-back 3-pointers by Haws to pull to within 25-17. Then Landale scored six consecutive points by himself to push the Gaels’ lead to 14 points, 31-17.
Saint Mary’s finished the half on an 11-3 run and took a 36-20 lead into the locker room at halftime. The Gaels led by as many as 17 in the first half.
In the first half, Mika had twice as many turnovers (4) as points (2). The Gaels were 5 of 12 from 3-point range compared to 2 of 11 for the Cougars.
As a team, BYU shot 8 of 32 from the field. Individually, Bryant, Mika and Nick Emery combined to go 2 of 16 over the first 20 minutes. Landale had a game-high 12 points at the half, including a perfect 6 of 6 from the free throw line.
Saint Mary’s will take on top-seed Gonzaga — which beat Santa Clara in Monday night’s first semifinal, 77-68 — Tuesday (7 p.m., MST, ESPN) in the WCC Tournament championship game. The winner receives the league’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
BYU, meanwhile, is expected to receive a bid to the National Invitation Tournament.