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BYU basketball: Cougars have to get to FT line, hit 3-pointers to upset No. 19 Saint Mary’s

First Published      Last Updated Mar 06 2017 01:26 pm

Prior to 2011, when BYU joined the West Coast Conference, most Cougar fans had probably never heard of Saint Mary's College of California, a smallish, private school about 10 miles east of Oakland.

The Gaels have a beautiful campus in the rolling, tree-covered hills south of Walnut Creek. It's gorgeous and scenic there, and has become a magnet for some of the best players Australia produces.

BYU is roughly eight times larger than Saint Mary's, in terms of enrollment, and the 19,000-seat Marriott Center where the Cougars play basketball dwarfs the crackerbox McKeon Pavilion, home of the Gaels.



Saint Mary's lists McKeon as having 3,500 seats, but I would put it closer to 3,000, maybe fewer. One of these days, I am going to count them myself, just to satisfy my curiosity/skepticism.

All that said, Saint Mary's has become a thorn in BYU's side, especially in basketball — both men's and women's basketball.

Oddly enough, the Cougars tangle with the Gaels twice today in crucial West Coast Conference tournament semifinal games, 3 p.m. MST for the women and 9:30 p.m. MST for the men.

On the men's side, No. 19 Saint Mary's is a 7-point favorite at Orleans Arena, a number that seems a bit low considering SMC routed BYU by 13 points in each regular-season matchup. The first game, Jan. 5 in Moraga, Calif., was fairly competitive because Eric Mika had a monster game to offset a big game by SMC's Jock Landale. Saint Mary's led throughout, then pulled away late.

In the Feb. 18 game at the Marriott Center, the Gaels led by 25 with seven minutes remaining on Senior Night after taking a 41-30 halftime lead, and the Cougars were never in it.

So what's the biggest key tonight for the 22-10 Cougars?

They simply have to get to the free-throw line, something they've done reasonably well all season, except for the two games against the Gaels (27-3).

The Cougars make 19 free throws per game, on average. They made a grand total of 16 free throws in the two games against SMC. BYU is 16th nationally in free throw attempts; SMC is 10th nationally in fewest free throws allowed.

Bottom line: Saint Mary's players don't get whistled for fouls much. BYU depends on drawing fouls and getting to the line, because its long-range shooting is suspect.

BYU still needs to do a little damage from 3-point range to keep it close. Saint Mary's made 10 to BYU's four in Provo. Saint Mary's made 10 to BYU's five in Moraga.

Landale has emerged as SMC's best player, but against BYU the other Cougar-killer has been Calvin Hermanson. The junior from Lake Oswego, Ore., looks like he's ready for a lunchtime racquetball match with his goggles and headband, then drills 3-pointers consistently against BYU.

He made four in Provo, two in Moraga.

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