Three Observations From BYU’s Missed Opportunity At Saint Mary’s

Feb 19, 2022, 11:48 PM

BYU Basketball - Mark Pope - Saint Mary's...

MORAGA, CA - FEBRUARY 19: Brigham Young Cougars head coach Mark Pope congratulates St. Mary's Gaels guard Logan Johnson (0) after the game between the BYU Cougars and the Saint Mary's Gaels on Saturday, February 19, 2022 at the McKeon Pavilion in Moraga, California. (Photo by Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

(Photo by Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

PROVO, Utah – BYU basketball missed out on a much-needed NCAA Tournament resume-building win at Saint Mary’s on Saturday night. Saint Mary’s defeated BYU, 69-64.

It was a typical BYU/Saint Mary’s game that featured physicality and a high level of intensity. Unfortunately for BYU, the loss ensures that the Cougars will finish the conference season with fewer than 10 wins for the first time since 2005.

BYU will now need a run in Las Vegas at the WCC Tournament to make up ground for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. Unless, of course, they find a way to schedule a non-conference game between now and the WCC Tourney.

Either way, here are the three observations from BYU’s loss in Moraga.

#1 Turnovers sunk BYU basketball in the second half

A four-minute stretch in the second half killed BYU’s chances of pulling off the upset. From the 12:27 mark to 8:15 remaining in the game, Saint Mary’s jump from two to 16. BYU had four costly turnovers that the Gaels capitalized on each time in that stretch.

It didn’t help BYU’s cause to see Seneca Knight roll his right ankle during the stretch, as he was playing some efficient basketball on both ends of the floor. But taking care of the basketball had to be a top priority for BYU to get the quality win.

In the entire second half, BYU had 12 turnovers. That’s not going to get it done at a venue that you’ve only won twice at since being a member of the WCC (since 2011-12).

Saint Mary’s finished plus-six in points off turnovers in a game that ended with a five-point margin. That’s your ball game, right there.

#2 No one can question the fight from this BYU team

Except for the Gonzaga game at home, one of the defining characteristics of this BYU team has been their fight when facing frustration. It’s one of the mantras Mark Pope’s lives by, “turn frustration into fight.” They’ve consistently done that this season, and it showed again on Saturday when down 16.

BYU could have easily rolled over and packed up shop on the game. But they didn’t. Strangely, the close loss helped them in their resume metrics. After the game, BYU made a jump in the KenPom ratings from No. 53 to No. 53 because they lost by fewer points than the projected seven-point loss Pomeroy’s predictive metrics forecasted.

With the gritty effort from an injured Fousseyni Traore, Seneca Knight returning from injury during the game, Caleb Lohner putting together a near double-double performance, Pope’s team has consistently shown that they won’t give up. It’s a characteristic that should give hope to this group heading into Las Vegas in a few weeks that they won’t pack in the season.

#3 Bring on a rubber match

BYU and Saint Mary’s split the regular-season series, each team defending their home court. Both games were quality college basketball contests. Who wouldn’t want to see a third in Las Vegas?

Right now, barring a collapse from Saint Mary’s in the final week of the regular season, the Gaels appear poised to take the No. 2 seed and have a bye to the Semifinals on Monday night. BYU is currently in the five-seed slated to open their tourney in the second round on Friday, March 4.

That creates a scenario where BYU would need to win three games –including one over Gonzaga– before facing Saint Mary’s in the WCC final. However, BYU still has a shot at earning the three-seed if San Francisco and Santa Clara drop some games next week.

Either way, no one should oppose a game between BYU and Saint Mary’s. It’s fun, entertaining basketball that always lives up to the hype, with the stakes always being high. A game between these two with a chance at earning an automatic bid to the Big Dance is the type of entertainment we all want to see.

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

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Three Observations From BYU’s Missed Opportunity At Saint Mary’s