Provo • Having played seven of their last nine games away from the Marriott Center, the BYU Cougars are excited to return home Thursday night and play in front of their home crowd.
What coach Dave Rose’s team is not thrilled about is seeing Saint Mary’s again, after the Gaels routed the Cougars 88-66 just 19 days ago in Moraga, Calif. BYU has yet to play Gonzaga, San Diego or Loyola Marymount this season, but will welcome SMC for a 9 p.m. MST tip in a game that will be televised by ESPN2.
“The approach we have focused on is to really dial in on an opponent that exposed us in a lot of ways the first time we played them,” Rose said.
It is the beginning of a three-game homestand, as BYU has a bye on Saturday, then hosts Gonzaga and LMU next week. The Cougars, 4-2 in the West Coast Conference, 12-9 overall, are looking at Thursday’s game, as well as the two next week, as an opportunity to jumpstart a season that has been defined by inconsistency on both ends of the floor, Rose said.
“These guys have a lot to shoot for,” he said. “Sometimes, this team gets beat up a little bit because we don’t have the same kind of record we have had in the past. But we have a chance right now to do something that some other teams haven’t done, so hopefully we are excited.”
Four of BYU’s next five games are at home, where the Cougars are 9-1. Rose said seeing an opponent twice in the WCC before another once is not that uncommon.
“A lot of it is dictated by TV,” Rose said.
Of course, knocking off Saint Mary’s won’t be easy, considering BYU hasn’t defeated the Gaels in a regular-season matchup since Feb. 4, 2016, a 70-59 win at the Marriott Center. The Cougars downed SMC 85-72 in last year’s WCC tournament semifinals to snap a five-game losing streak to their league nemesis, but weren’t competitive on Jan. 5 at McKeon Pavilion in the second half.
“Big game,” Rose said. “We have had three good practices. We are looking forward to a good crowd and a really good game.”
Saint Mary’s barely resembles the team that won 30 games last year, but is playing well after a rocky non-conference run. The Gaels feature 10 foreign-born players, the most in NCAA men’s Division I basketball.
Coach Randy Bennett “has them going pretty good,” Rose said. “They lost their first league game [to San Francisco], but now they are on a roll.”
To slow down the Gaels and red-hot junior guard Jordan Ford, who is averaging a league-best 22.3 points per game, BYU must stop dribble-penetration and close out better on 3-point shooters, Rose said.
The Cougars will again be shorthanded because guard Jahshire Hardnett is still recovering from a bone bruise in his left hand and won’t play. Rose said the junior’s hand is healing well and he is projected to be back next week.
“We will figure out how they beat us last time, and tune those things up and just play our game, honestly,” said wing Zac Seljaas. “That’s what we need to do, is play BYU basketball and play how we play. Good things will come out of that.”
Saint Mary’s forward Malik Fitts, a South Florida transfer, caused a lot of problems for the Cougars three weeks ago, and is averaging 15.0 points and 7.9 rebounds. The Gaels also feature two solid Australians inside — Tanner Krebs (9.1 ppg.) and Jordan Hunter (9.6 ppg.) and a heady guard in Tommy Khuse, who prepped at the same high school that has produced many great BYU athletes — Mountain View High in Mesa, Ariz.
“Execution in the half court will be really important in this game,” Rose said. “We shot 40 percent from the field, they shot 55 percent from the field. Those two numbers really have to change. The 13 turnovers, that’s a lot against Saint Mary’s because the possessions, there are not a lot in the game. Those are things we really need to work on.”
Saint Mary’s at BYU
At the Marriott Center, Provo
Tipoff • Thursday, 9 p.m. MST
TV • ESPN2
Radio • KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 4-2, 12-9: Saint Mary’s 4-1, 13-7
Series history • Saint Mary’s leads 14-13
Last meeting • Saint Mary’s 88, BYU 66 (Jan. 5, 2019)
About the Gaels • They have won six of their last seven games against BYU and are coming off a 76-59 win over San Diego last Saturday. … They have won four straight games. … Junior G Jordan Ford leads the WCC in scoring with a 22.3 average. He had 23 points in their 22-point win on Jan. 5 over BYU, while South Florida transfer Malik Fitts added 18 points and nine rebounds. … Coach Randy Bennett is 405-169 in his 17th season at the helm.
About the Cougars • They are 9-1 at home this season and have won their last four home games. … Injured junior Jahshire Hardnett (bruised left hand) will not play Thursday but will likely return for next Thursday’s home game against Gonzaga. … Senior G McKay Cannon went 3 for 3 from 3-point range in last Saturday’s 82-63 loss at San Francisco and is 8 of 15 from long range in the last six games. … Junior F Yoeli Childs averaged 22.5 points in last week’s road split and is now 15th in the nation in scoring with a 22.3 average.