All the credit goes to the entire team, everyone gave us a lot of energy. It’s all about believing and trusting each other. —BYU forward Yeoli Childs
LAS VEGAS — BYU played Saint Mary's game better than the Gaels could Monday night in upsetting the second-seed favorite in Orleans Arena 85-72.
A year ago, SMC sliced and diced the Cougars in an 81-50 blowout in this event, but Monday it was BYU that palmed the scalpel.
The Cougars advance to Tuesday’s finals against No. 1 Gonzaga. The win kept BYU’s record intact: never losing five games to the Zags and Gaels in a season.
It was BYU with the precision passes, razor-sharp cuts, choreographed and well-timed sets. It was the Cougars with outstanding execution right out of the book. It was Dave Rose and his staff with a golden game plan, aggression with purpose, unselfish play, assists on almost every bucket, making SMC guard all five, timely give-and-goes and the player of the game who was not Jock Landale.
The win lifted BYU to 24-9 while the Gaels dropped to 28-5.
“All the credit goes to the entire team, everyone gave us a lot of energy,” said Yoeli Childs. BYU outshot the Gaels 61 to 50 percent. “It’s all about believing and trusting each other.”
After the opening tip, BYU looked like the energized team. The Gaels looked a little tired.
Childs had a career-high, knocking down shots from distance (three) by making a remarkable 13 of 18 field goals for 33 points. You know it was on when he tied his career high at halftime with a buzzer-beater three with three seconds left.
There were plenty of heroes for Rose in this game. They included Dalton Nixon, whose rebounds and timely buckets may have been overshadowed by how he drew the third and fourth fouls on Landale — forcing him to play tentatively.
“We did enough to not give him the shots he ordinarily gets against us,” said Rose. “With those fouls, maybe he wasn’t as aggressive as moving us out down low.”
Elijah Bryant stayed in attack mode all game and displayed his remarkable efficiency with his shot production. Bryant was 8 of 13 from the field for 25 points.
McKay Cannon came off the bench to make big plays. Late in the game, he saved a TJ Haws pass from going out of bounds by getting to the orb in midair, turning his body while passing back to Childs, who hit a floater a second before the shot clock expired to put the Cougars up 77-68. Earlier, Cannon had a steal and feed to Nixon for a slam dunk.
“We felt like we had them at our place and they got us at their place so we’ve been waiting for this,” said Nixon. “We found the extra juice to get us there.”
BYU’s win avenged an embarrassing loss here to the Gaels a year ago that was about as much of an opposite performance two teams could have.
“I think the guys know we are capable of beating anybody,” said Rose. “We really believe that and how we’ve played over the course of the season against some really tough teams. We felt we are built to win these games. We scored 85 points in both games. The thing is to get the guys to believe it.”
Before tipoff, I was chatting with BYU’s equipment manager Steve Bushman. We went to Provo High together. I asked him if he had BYU ready. “I just have a feeling,” said Bushman. “Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong, but I have a feeling being around these guys, they’re gonna get it done.”
Rose said Gonzaga poses a major challenge, but Monday’s win was satisfying for his team that played a year ago here and lost big to the Gaels.