Provo • BYU’s hopes of contending for the West Coast Conference basketball championship in its inaugural season in the league are gone, buried under an avalanche of missed shots and defensive lapses and deep-sixed by the razor-sharp Saint Mary’s Gaels.
Facing a massive, sellout crowd of 22,700 on Saturday night that howled at every call that didn’t go its way, the No. 21-ranked Gaels proved worthy of their national acclaim, ripping the Cougars 80-66 to tighten their grip on the WCC lead and complete a regular-season sweep of the new kids on the block.
"Saint Mary’s played terrific," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "I thought they were outstanding."
And BYU wasn’t, suffering its second-straight home loss and probably falling off the NCAA Tournament bubble, at least as far as its at-large hopes are concerned.
The Cougars fell to 6-3 in league play, the loss coming on the heels of that 82-68 setback to Loyola Marymount more than a week ago at the Marriott Center, and 18-6 overall.
The simple reason is roughly the same as it was then. BYU’s guards struggled again to make shots, going 2 of 13 from 3-point range. The Cougars have now missed 62 of their last 73 3-point attempts, covering four games.
"We need to shoot the ball better from the perimeter," Rose acknowledged in the understatement of the night.
But the coach and BYU’s Noah Hartsock, who led the team with 15 points along with Matt Carlino, offered plenty of credit to Saint Mary’s, which shot 55.8 percent from the field, including 7 of 18 from 3-point range. The Gaels (21-2, 10-0 WCC) turned the ball over 24 times as the desperate Cougars upped the pressure in the second half, but won the rebounding battle 35-30 and seemed unfazed by the raucous crowd, which was assessed a technical foul for throwing debris on the court after being warned the first time.
Rose was also hit with a technical foul late in the game, only the second of his BYU head coaching career, as his gamelong frustration with the referees finally boiled over when it became apparent a comeback wasn’t in the cards.
"They are probably disappointed in a lot of things, too," Rose said in his postgame news conference, when asked if he was disappointed in the students’ behavior.
Trailing by as many as 23 points in the second half, the Cougars got a spark from Carlino, who scored 11 of BYU’s 12 points during a comeback stretch. BYU cut the deficit to nine a couple of times, including with two minutes, 31 seconds remaining after a Carlino basket.
But Carlino was called for a foul seconds later, which drew disgust from Rose, and the technical, and that pretty much ended the rally.
The Gaels did it although leading scorer Matthew Dellavedova was 1 for 4 from the field and finished with just 10 points. Senior Clint Steindl rescued the Gaels, stepping off the bench in the first half to make four 3-pointers and push the Cougars out of their zone.
"It was a crazy environment," said Saint Mary’s freshman Brad Waldow, who led all scorers with 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting. "But is is still a 5-on-5 game."
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