We’ll take it. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t smooth. —Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett, on the Gaels' win over Pepperdine
LAS VEGAS — For the second consecutive season, BYU and Saint Mary’s will meet in the West Coast Conference tournament semifinals at Orleans Arena.
The Cougars are hoping for a much better showing this time around.
BYU has dropped five consecutive games to the Gaels overall, including a humiliating 31-point setback (81-50) in last year’s semifinals — marking Dave Rose’s most lopsided loss as the Cougar coach.
No. 3 seed BYU and No. 2 seed Saint Mary’s collide again Monday (9:30 p.m., MST, ESPN2) with a berth into the WCC championship game Tuesday night on the line.
“I think our guys would be excited with that possibility (of playing Saint Mary's) because we played them well in both games and we led at our place the majority of the game,” Rose said after BYU defeated No. 6 San Diego 85-79 Saturday afternoon in the WCC quarterfinals. “We’ve yet to beat them. We look forward to the opportunity to change the tide a little bit.”
The Cougars (23-9) and Gaels (28-4) met on Dec. 30 in Provo. BYU led by six points with 5:41 remaining in regulation before Saint Mary's tied the game in the waning moments. The Cougars had a chance to win the game in regulation, but Zac Seljaas’ shot fell short at the buzzer. In overtime, the Gaels outscored the Cougars 14-4 and recorded a 74-64 win.
The Cougars fell to Saint Mary's on Jan. 25 in Moraga, 75-62, as Gael center Jock Landale scored 32 points.
“We’re excited to get another shot at them. We love it,” BYU team captain Luke Worthington said of a rematch with Saint Mary's. “I think we played them really well at our place and I obviously think we should have gotten that one. At their place, they played really well. It will be interesting to see what happens on Monday. I’m confident in our guys. I love the way we’re playing and I know we’ll give it our all.”
Both the Cougars and Gaels survived scares in the quarterfinals Saturday.
BYU built a 17-point lead in the second half before San Diego tied the score at 71 with three minutes remaining. Thanks in part to clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch, the Cougars hung on for the win. Elijah Bryant scored a game-high 27 points and Yoeli Childs had 22 for BYU.
Saint Mary’s trailed No. 10 seed Pepperdine for 33 minutes. The Gaels pulled out a dramatic 69-66 victory in what was Marty Wilson’s final game as the Waves’ coach.
WCC men’s basketball tournament semifinals
No. 3 BYU (23-9) vs. No. 2 Saint Mary’s (28-4)
Monday, 9:30 p.m. MST, Orleans Arena
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Saint Mary's senior guard Calvin Hermanson, who has burned BYU many times in the past, drilled three straight 3-pointers in the final 3½ minutes after starting 1 of 6 from 3-point range.
Pepperdine had chances to tie the game in the waning moments, and a final 3-pointer, which would have forced overtime, missed at the buzzer.
“We’ll take it. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t smooth,” said Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett. “Our seniors stepped up and we were able to escape. Calvin bailed us out at the end.”
Landale, the West Coast Conference player of the year, finished with 17 points and 19 rebounds. Jordan Ford led all scorers with 19 points while Emmett Narr added 16 and Hermanson had 14.
"The game wasn't going our way. I was a prime example of that," Hermanson said. "We started finding Jock down low. He's one of the best passing big men in the country. He was finding people open outside and we played through him and good things happen.”
According to some bracketologists, Saint Mary’s sits on the NCAA Tournament bubble and may need to win the WCC championship to ensure a bid to the Big Dance.
Bennett is looking for an improved performance from his players Monday, compared to Saturday's narrow win over Pepperdine. "If we're going to advance, we have to have more guys play better,” he said.
It’s been well over a month since BYU and Saint Mary’s last played each other. “We haven’t seen them in a while,” Bennett said of the Cougars.
“We know it’s going to be a really tough game for us,” Landale said.
Asked the difference between BYU’s team last season and this season, Bennett made some observations.
“They don’t have (Eric) Mika, thank goodness,” Bennett said. “They’ve changed defensively. They play more deliberate, more half-court. Their shot selection is pretty good. Defensively, they’ve improved from where they were last year.”