Midway through the second half, Saint Mary’s led by as many as eight points — the Gaels’ largest lead of the night. But, after trading a few points, BYU put the brakes on its West Coast Conference opponent.
The Cougars didn’t allow a single Saint Mary’s basket for nearly 10 minutes and closed out the game on a 19-2 run to beat the Gaels 62-52 on Thursday. The win — BYU’s second ever in Moraga, Calif. — improves the Cougars to 10-3 on the season and 1-1 in conference play.
It also cemented BYU’s identity as the bounce-back team.
Both BYU and Saint Mary’s entered the matchup having lost their respective WCC opener (the Cougars at Gonzaga and the Gaels against Santa Clara), but BYU prevented a consecutive loss. In fact, throughout BYU coach Mark Pope’s, albeit short, tenure, the Cougars have never lost back-to-back games.
“That’s not easy,” Pope said during the Post Game Show. “That’s a credit to this team. ... At the end of the day, they’re deciding that they want to fight for each other.”
Thursday’s game was just the Cougars’ second game in three weeks. Because of the long breaks in action, the loss to Gonzaga stung longer than it usually would. For grad transfer Brandon Averette, it felt like three losses.
But Thursday’s win finally put an end to that.
“It felt good to be out here and finally get a win back under our belt and get that winning feeling back,” Averette said during the Post Game Show.
The Cougars didn’t necessarily start off slow, but the Gaels were able to pull away in the first half due to better three-point shooting. Saint Mary’s shot 5 of 14 from behind the arc compared to BYU’s 1 of 5 in the first 20 minutes.
Even though the Cougars were unable to score from deep the remainder of the game, they were able to pull out the defensive stops needed to throw a wrench in the Gaels’ powerful offense.
Saint Mary’s went from shooting 44.4% from the field in the first half to only shooting 30.4% in the second half. BYU improved from .8 points per possession in the first half to 1.3 points per possession in the second half.
And that’s what helped BYU win by a 10-point margin.
“The guys were super efficient,” Pope said. “The whole game changes. ... We got a little bit of rhythm and a little bit of pace. We got a little bit downhill and got them spaced out.”
The Cougars will continue on to their final matchup of a three-game road stint, playing at San Francisco on Saturday.
Just like in Moraga, BYU struggles playing in War Memorial Gym. Last season, in the first meeting against San Francisco, the visiting Cougars saw a 14-point lead vanish away as the Dons went on to win 83-82.
BYU was able to split the series, winning its respective home game against San Francisco, but is looking to get another key road win to close out the week.
Meanwhile, even if the Cougars end up going 1-1 on their Bay area trip, the win at Saint Mary’s is one the team won’t forget any time soon.
“It was fun,” Averrette said. “Those are the type of games we really live for, and that’s why we love playing this game.”