Isaac Brekken, Associated Press
Saint Mary's Jordan Ford (30) drives past BYU's Jahshire Hardnett during the first half of a West Coast Conference tournament NCAA college basketball game, Monday, March 5, 2018, in Las Vegas.

PROVO — For the second time in less than three weeks, BYU is facing West Coast Conference nemesis Saint Mary’s.

This time, the Cougars will get to play the Gaels at home. Saint Mary’s handed BYU a humbling 88-66 setback in Moraga back on Jan. 5.

The two teams collide again Thursday (9 p.m. MST, ESPN2) at the Marriott Center. It marks only the third home game for the Cougars since mid-December. During that stretch, BYU went 29 days between home games.

For the Cougars, who are coming off an 82-63 loss at San Francisco, their next three games, and four of the next five, will be played in Provo.

“We’re playing a three-game homestead," said coach Dave Rose. "I feel for the team. It’s not their fault. … I really believe that anybody playing on any team that never got to play a home game would be pretty tough on any team. So I’m glad we’ve got a few coming up.”

“I’m really excited about it,” guard TJ Haws said about having several home games over the next couple of weeks. “Those few games we had at home were super refreshing for us. It’s nice to have people cheering for us instead of against us. We’re looking forward to this homestretch.”

Will playing at the friendly confines of the Marriott Center be enough for the Cougars to knock off Saint Mary’s?

Rose called the Gaels “an opponent that exposed us in a lot of ways the first time we played them.”

At McKeon Pavilion, the two teams were tied at 25 in the first half before the Gaels went on a 17-4 run, highlighted by back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers by Malik Fitts. It was a hole BYU couldn’t dig out of.

“His ability to get hot from the perimeter, like he did against us, he’s a triple-threat guy that you know that if you leave him for an open shot, he’s capable of knocking down that 3,” Rose said of Fitts. “If you crowd him, he can put it past you and get to the rim and finish and then he’s good at the free-throw line. He’s a guy that has really stepped in and filled that position pretty well.”

Jordan Ford, meanwhile, poured in a game-high 23 points against BYU.

“Jordan Ford is as good a finisher as maybe there is. He reminds me in a different way of Tyler Haws when he played here,” Rose said. “We could run sets and sets and sets for Ty and he would just close the game out. Jordan Ford can do it creatively, off the dribble, off the bounce, a 5-footer, a 12-foot floater, hitting 3s, step-backs, getting to the free line. So late in the shot clock we’re going to have to do a really good job on corralling him and controlling him a little bit.”

What did the Cougars learn from that game that they can apply Thursday?

“I think mostly it's on the defensive end. We kind of let our guard down at their place,” said guard McKay Cannon. “It’s a tough place to play, obviously. But we feel like we did some things we normally don’t do. Hopefully, being at home, we can tighten those things up and get a win here.”

Haws said his team has improved since that last game against Saint Mary’s.

“Every day, this team brings a lot to practice. We really want to get better. I feel like we’re learning from the good and bad things that we’ve done,” he said. “I feel like this team has grown a lot since then. I feel like we’ve gotten a lot better defensively and we’re working on that every day in practice. I think we’ll be ready to go (Thursday).”

Haws added that Saint Mary’s style is difficult to defend.

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“They’re super good at reading defenses and they slow the game down a lot,” he said. “But they really just share the ball and they know their role, which can be challenging. But if we can guard for 30 seconds at a time, I think we’re going to win the game.”

Rose is hoping that having a string of home games can help springboard his team.

“I think we’re in a good spot right now,” he said. “I think this team could really take off and have a great finish.”

Saint Mary’s (13-7, 4-1) at BYU (12-9, 4-2)

Thursday, 9 p.m. MST

Marriott Center


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