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Jay Drew
Jay covers BYU athletics for The Salt Lake Tribune. You can follow him on Twitter @drewjay.

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Basketball: Is St. Mary's that much better than BYU, Gonzaga?

I hope you were able to catch our college basketball page in The Tribune this morning, a page that includes some commentary and analysis sure to spark some debate among BYU fans and the state's college basketball fans in general.

I wrote about the differences BYU's basketball team is facing as a member of the West Coast Conference as opposed to the MWC in this piece. It's just not the same, obviously, although I am well aware that 1) students at USD and LMU were not back from the holiday break when their schools hosted BYU and 2) the atmospheres at St. Mary's and Gonzaga were close (SMC) or will be close (Gonzaga) to what the Cougars faced at New Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State -- just in much smaller venues.

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Utah State beat writer Tony Jones is already crowning St. Mary's as the best team in the WCC in this notebook topper; I say wait until the Gaels play at Gonzaga and BYU before anointing them something other than one of the top three teams in what is shaping up to be a three-team league with three possible NCAA Tournament invitees.

Remember: the Gaels won by six at San Diego in a game the Toreros believe they could have won; BYU won by 19 at Jenny Craig Pavilion on Monday.

We will see on Jan. 28 (at BYU) and Feb. 9 (at Gonzaga) if St. Mary's really is the class of the league. Home-court advantage is huge in college basketball, much more so than in any other sport.

And don't be surprised if surprising LMU gives SMC all it can handle on Jan. 26 in Los Angeles.

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Not sure I've ever been around a more humble, self-deprecating star than Cougar forward Noah Hartsock. Teammates say that after Hartsock went 2-for-12 on Monday against USD and failed to score in double figures for the first time this season, he was the same ol' Noah, celebrating the win as much as anyone else on the team and praising the guards for bailing out the big guys.

"He is as happy as anyone in there," said Brock Zylstra, nodding toward the locker room.

Hartsock took another shot to the nose in the game, and it was still swollen a bit and red at practice on Tuesday. Coach Dave Rose said Hartsock's back was bothering him, too, but the senior didn't mention it in a five-minute interview.

"The nose is fine," Hartsock said, when asked about that. "I think it will be sore and tender until we get it fixed up again. I broke it against Utah State. But I can't get surgery until the end of the year."

By the way, long after practice had concluded Tuesday at the Marriott Center, Hartsock and Davies were still on the floor, working on mid-range jump shots and free throws.

More from Hartsock:

On going 2 of 12 vs. San Diego:

"Just tough shooting. I didn't shoot particularly well, nor did Brandon for that matter. I think we were 5 for 21 combined. It was great to see our guards step up and make some great plays. They shot the ball extremely well and made great plays and helped us get that win."

On the ability to provide their own energy in the smaller gyms:

"Yeah, we need to provide our own energy and bring our own some times. The great thing is we have a lot of great fans who travel and come out from all over and support us. So we had a great following last night, and that always helps."

On the scheduling in the WCC:

"I think that is quite interesting. I have never had that happen before. San Diego did a great job to prevent losing like they did the first time. They weren't going to let me or Brandon just dominate like we did the first game."

On getting double-teamed a lot down the stretch:

"I think that will happen, yeah. Our inside game has been really productive, and a lot of teams are sending those double teams, and packing it down low. They are making the guards beat them, and we are OK with that because of the way Craig and Charles and Matt and Brock have been shooting. I think that will open it up for us and just open it up the whole floor."



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