BYU COUGARS

Part Three Of BYU, Saint Mary’s Has Makings To Be Another Classic Finish

Mar 9, 2020, 2:06 AM
Photo Courtesy of BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey...
Photo Courtesy of BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey

LAS VEGAS, Nevada – BYU and Saint Mary’s have met two times this season and both games have gone down to the wire with each team defending their home floor. Now comes the third matchup in a neutral setting at the West Coast Conference Tournament here in Las Vegas.

BYU is riding high into this game with a nine-game winning streak and is one of the hottest teams in college basketball at the moment. Saint Mary’s is coming off a thrilling double-overtime victory in the quarterfinals of the WCC Tournament over Pepperdine. Gaels guard Jordan Ford dropped 42 points to advance Saint Mary’s to Monday night against BYU.

For BYU, the Cougars are already a lock to play in the NCAA Tournament, so what happens in Vegas is not critical to whether or not they are in the Big Dance. But, BYU hasn’t won a conference tournament title in 19 years. Players such as senior leaders Yoeli Childs and Jake Toolson came back to BYU this year for a chance to do something special under first-year head coach Mark Pope. Winning a conference title would fall under the special category as the Cougars have only won three tournament titles in the last 30 years.

But in order to win the tournament title, they will have to get by a Saint Mary’s team that has played in a pair of one-possession games against BYU this season. In the first meeting at Moraga, BYU was without Childs but the Cougars rallied led by TJ Haws who sent the game into overtime before Ford and the Gaels pulled away in the extra session for an 87-84 victory.

The following month, BYU hosted Saint Mary’s in Provo. The game was one of the best atmospheres in the Marriott Center in nearly a decade. Haws capped off the memorable night with a game-winning three one day before he became a father for the first time in his life.

Those two memorable games set the stage for Monday night which has all the makings of being another classic and BYU is antsy to get back on the court and playing again. It’s been nine days since BYU last played.

“Saint Mary’s is an incredible offensive team and a really tough defensive team,” said BYU assistant coach Cody Fueger. “I expect Ford to come out and play really hard along with (Malik) Fitts, two all-league guys and then (Tanner) Krebs who didn’t play us against us the second time. I expect him to be ready to go, but we’ll be ready to go [as well].”

BYU will have their hands full trying to contain Ford, but on the flip side, it’s a pick your poison situation for the Gaels trying to contain Yoeli Childs in the post and the Cougars shooters in Toolson, Haws, and guard Alex Barcello.

BYU Basketball feels prepared for a tournament setting

This is the first conference tournament title for BYU under head coach Mark Pope. The Cougars lone tournament experience under Pope took place in the Maui Invitational which was the moment for this year’s BYU team that made them realize they could be really good this season. But conference tournaments are a different animal, so what should we expect from BYU now that March is here?

“In a sense, it feels like we’ve prepared every single game like it was an elimination game, or as close as you can,” said BYU coach Mark Pope to KSL Sports. “You know that can be exhausting and it can really wear on a team but these guys have been resilient enough that they’ve kind of muscle through it. So, then you get to this point and you feel like, hey, if we can keep approaching every game with desperation and urgency like it’s the toughest game we’ve ever played then it’s right in our comfort zone.”

BYU and Saint Mary’s are two elite Three-Point shooting teams

Two of the best three-point shooting teams in America will be on display at The Orleans on Monday night. BYU is number in the country in three-point field goal percentage at 42.3 percent while Saint Mary’s is not far behind at 39.7 percent, good for third in the country.

The team that can find their hot shooting in Vegas is likely going to be the team that can come away with a victory in this one. Watch for BYU guard Jake Toolson who’s having one of the best individual shooting seasons in BYU basketball history at 47.1 percent from beyond the arc. For Saint Mary’s, both Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts shoot 41 percent from deep this season.

Jake Toolson in elite company

Toolson is in elite BYU basketball company. The senior transfer from Utah Valley is only the third player in BYU history to average at least 15 points, four rebounds, and four assists in a season. The other players are Danny Ainge and Kyle Collinsworth, two of the best players statistically in BYU’s history.

No. 2 BYU vs. No. 3 Saint Mary’s

West Coast Conference Tournament – Semifinals

Tip: 9:30 pm (MDT)

TV: ESPN2

Radio: KSL NewsRadio 102.7 FM, 1160 AM

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

Follow KSL Sports coverage from the West Coast Conference Tournament on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

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Part Three Of BYU, Saint Mary’s Has Makings To Be Another Classic Finish