Las Vegas • While assistant coaches Tim LaComb, Heath Schroyer, Quincy Lewis and Andrew May watched courtside as Saint Mary’s eked past finally full-strength Pepperdine 69-66 late Saturday night in a West Coast Conference quarterfinal game, BYU head coach Dave Rose sat alone in the stands at Orleans Arena with a pensive, reflective look on his face at times.
Earlier Saturday, after Rose’s Cougars advanced to their fifth-straight semifinal appearance at the WCC tournament with an 85-79 win over San Diego, the coach said he “wouldn’t want to play Pepperdine right now” because of the inspired way the Waves were playing for ousted coach Marty Wilson. That prediction proved true a few hours later as Pepperdine gave the No. 22 Gaels all they wanted — leading by as many as 15 points in the first half — before fading late.
So the third-seeded Cougars (23-9) will face the second-seeded Gaels (28-4) at 9:30 p.m. MST Monday, a year after Saint Mary’s embarrassed them 81-50 in a semifinal, and Rose is rightfully concerned. Saint Mary’s has defeated BYU five straight times, all by 10 points or more.
Can the Cougars give the Gaels a scare like Pepperdine did, or perhaps even pull off the upset?
On Dec. 30, BYU took SMC to overtime before collapsing in the extra session in a 74-64 loss at the Marriott Center. The Gaels pulled away in the second half at Moraga in their last meeting on Jan. 25 to take a 75-62 win.
“I think our guys would be excited [to play SMC again] because we played them tough both games, for the majority of the games,” Rose said. “You look forward to the opportunity to change the outcome.”
Pepperdine led SMC, a 15-point favorite, for more than 33 minutes by double-teaming WCC Player of the Year Jock Landale, the 6-foot-11 giant from Australia who had 31 points and 13 rebounds in Provo and 32 points and 14 rebounds in Moraga against BYU. That’s how San Francisco beat the Gaels 70-63 on the Hilltop four games ago, too, but the question is whether BYU has the athletes and size to “monster” Landale and still get to shooters, such as Calvin Hermanson, Emmett Naar and Tanner Krebs, on the perimeter.
“It is pick your poison when you play the Gaels,” Rose has said many times.
BYU big man Yoeli Childs, who probably won’t start the game guarding Landale — that task will likely fall to junior Luke Worthington — but will get his shot in the second half, no doubt, said: “It is March. We will be ready to go.”
After finishing with 17 points and 19 rebounds against Pepperdine, Landale said “we already know it is going to be a really tough game for us” against BYU, “but I think our guys can get the job done.”
Bennett said the Gaels will have to play better overall and have more guys play well if they hope to advance in the tournament. San Francisco meets No. 7 Gonzaga in the early semifinal Monday. The championship game is Tuesday.
Asked how BYU has changed since that 81-50 beatdown a year ago, Bennett quipped, “Some of their personnel has changed. They don’t have [Eric] Mika, thank goodness.”
Maybe they are not as talented or explosive, but the Cougars have better chemistry and play more cohesively on offense and defense than that team, Rose has often said this season. Bennett concurred.
“Offensively, they are more deliberate than they were,” Bennett said. “They played more up tempo before. They are more half-court [oriented]. Their shot selection is pretty good, and then defensively they have definitely improved from what they were last year. So that’s what I [remember] from the first two games.”
MONDAY’S WCC SEMIFINAL GAME
BYU vs. Saint Mary’s
At Orleans Arena, Las Vegas
Tipoff: 9:30 p.m. MST
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius XM 143
Records: BYU 23-9, Saint Mary’s 28-4
Last meeting: Saint Mary’s 75, BYU 62 (Jan. 25, 2018)
About the Cougars: They are playing in their fifth-straight WCC semifinal game after downing San Diego 85-79 on Saturday afternoon, but haven’t advanced to the title game since 2014. … McKay Cannon led them in assists with five against the Toreros and they outscored USD 38-18 in the paint. … Elijah Bryant (27 points) and Yoeli Childs (22 points) have each scored 20 or more points in a game 12 times this season, and they’ve done it in the same game five times.