Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars guard Elijah Bryant (3) shouts after a Cougar defensive stop in Provo on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017.
They’re going to come out and see a totally different team — a team that shares the ball a little bit better, plays with a better pace. —BYU forward Yoeli Childs, on facing Saint Mary's

PROVO — Since BYU joined the West Coast Conference seven years ago, no WCC opponent has vexed the Cougars quite like Saint Mary’s.

BYU has posted a dismal 4-9 record against the Gaels since 2011. It’s been nearly five years since Saint Mary’s beat the Cougars on a dramatic 35-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer by Matthew Dellavedova in Provo.

The Gaels swept BYU in three meetings a year ago, including a 80-51 thumping of the Cougars in the WCC Tournament semifinals last March in Las Vegas.

It marked Dave Rose’s most lopsided loss as BYU’s coach. Saint Mary’s simply humiliated and manhandled the Cougars in a contest that was never close as BYU made only three of its first 17 shots. SMC shot 56 percent from the field and drilled 13 3-pointers that night.

During the regular-season, the Gaels pounded the Cougars at Moraga and at Provo by identical 13-point margins.

But that was last year.

It’s a new season and the Cougars (12-2, 1-0) and Gaels (12-2, 1-0) square off Saturday (2 p.m., MST, ESPNU) at the Marriott Center.

While BYU is riding a nine-game winning streak thanks in part to playing a different style — with a more disciplined offensive attack and more of an emphasis on defense — this showdown could reveal how much the Cougars have improved.

Is BYU better equipped to defeat Saint Mary’s this season?

“Yeah, absolutely,” said Cougar forward Yoeli Childs, who scored a career-high 26 points in a 69-45 WCC-opening victory against Portland Thursday night. “They’re going to come out and see a totally different team — a team that shares the ball a little bit better, plays with a better pace. We’ve worked really hard, especially on the defensive end, at being able to guard what they do. I think it’s going to be a different outcome.”

Saint Mary’s (12-2, 1-0) at BYU (12-2, 1-0)

Saturday, 2 p.m. MST Marriott Center

TV: ESPNU

Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM

“During the summer we’ve kind of taken a different approach and focused more on defense to be able to win those low-scoring games,” said guard Elijah Bryant, who scored 22 points and grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds against Portland. “That’s what Saint Mary’s does. Their pace is one of the lowest in the country. We’re ready for that.”

While BYU looks much different than it did last season both in terms of personnel and style, the Gaels return most of their starters, including 6-foot-11 center Jock Landale, who averages 21.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, Calvin Hermanson (13.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg) and Emmett Narr (11.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg).

Saint Mary’s is without guard Joe Rahon, who graduated last year.

“They’re different without Rahon. Joe was a really, really, tenacious defensive player at the point of attack all the time,” Rose said. “But these other guys are doing a pretty good job. They’re scoring a little bit more and teams may be scoring a little bit more against them. It probably offsets each other. They’re a much better offensive team this year, I think.”

Landale ranks among the nation’s top big men and is tough to defend.

“You kind of pick your poison. If you keep one guy on him, he’s probably going to have a big night,” Rose said of Landale. “If you bring a second guy, then you get in a rotation and when Saint Mary’s gets you in a rotation, they’re usually pretty good at hitting shots. That will be our challenge.”

Saint Mary’s blasted Loyola Marymount, 87-59, at home Thursday night in its WCC opener. Landale paced the Gaels with 21 points while Hermanson and Jordan Ford each buried four 3-pointers.

“We’ll break down the last five or six games that they’ve played,” Rose said after BYU’s victory over Portland. “It’s a quick turnaround. They made it even quicker moving it to 2 o’clock. So you’ve got one practice at it and that’s (Friday). Hopefully, we use the time the best we can.”