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BYU basketball: Cougars face their biggest WCC nemesis, Saint Mary’s

By Jay Drew

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Feb 20 2013 03:20PM
Updated Feb 20, 2013 11:39PM

Moraga, Calif. • The question posed to Tyler Haws was about BYU’s troubling trend of playing poorly in the second halves of its last four college basketball games.

The Cougars’ star finished his answer, after acknowledging that defensive letdowns have been the primary cause, by saying the Cougars are "looking forward to Thursday, though," and getting another shot at the Saint Mary’s Gaels.

It came almost out of the blue, that part about Thursday’s rematch at intimate-yet-rowdy McKeon Pavilion (9 p.m. MST, ESPN2), but it clearly showed where the Cougars’ minds were shortly after Tuesday night’s 70-68 win over Utah State and fellow guard Craig Cusick’s game-winning putback.

As everyone in Cougardom knows, BYU desperately wants some revenge over the 22-5 Gaels, and not just because the team had its heart ripped out last month in Provo in similar fashion to what Cusick did to the Aggies. Senior guard Matthew Dellavedova’s running, off-balance, 40-footer at the buzzer — the Dellavedagger — gave Saint Mary’s a 70-69 win Jan. 16 after Haws had made a 12-footer from almost the same spot where Cusick made his rebound basket Tuesday.

Also weighing on BYU is the fact that it is 0-3 against coach Randy Bennett’s plucky program in the Bay Area since it joined the West Coast Conference last season. Saint Mary’s is the only WCC team BYU has not defeated in league play.

"We are excited," Haws said. "We are really looking forward to that game, for sure."

It’s a tall task, made even more difficult by the fact that while the Cougars were playing one of the emotional games of the season, Saint Mary’s was resting and preparing for them, having not played since last Saturday’s 61-50 win at Loyola Marymount.

The Gaels lead the WCC in rebounding margin (8.4), while rebounding is perhaps BYU’s biggest weakness, at least in the last halves of the last four games.

"Our defense has got to be solid," Haws said. "And we have to be ready for a battle. But I feel really comfortable with the way our guys are playing right now, and we are going to be ready for them."

It would be easy for the Cougars to come out flat against the Gaels after such an emotional high, but coach Dave Rose said after the game he believes the outcome will give the Cougars an emotional lift heading back into WCC play.

"I think any time you win a close game, your guys, their confidence level is good," Rose said. "But you know, I just think that when you compete together as a team, it helps. We competed hard for 40 minutes. It was a hard-fought game — a lot of guys got a chance to play, and participate, and hopefully it brings our team together."

The Gaels have won 10 of their last 11 games, the only loss in that stretch at home to No. 3 Gonzaga, while the Cougars have never quite been the same since losing on Dellavedova’s big shot. They’ve lost three times since then.

"There is lots of room to improve," Haws said. "This team is still improving and getting better."

Twitter: @drewjay

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