BYU Continues WCC Tournament Run Against Saint Mary’s In Semifinals

Mar 5, 2023, 8:20 PM

BYU basketball is two wins away from punching an NCAA Tournament ticket. That’s the good news. The bad news is that BYU has to face the WCC co-regular season champion Saint Mary’s.

BYU has had two close calls against No. 17 Saint Mary’s this season, but both resulted in losses. The game in Provo on January 28 was a heartbreaker for a shorthanded BYU team. BYU lost 57-56 after freshman Aidan Mahaney buried a game-winner.

Two close calls against Saint Mary’s this season

Then in Moraga on February 18, BYU was within three points of the Gaels at the under-four timeout, then Saint Mary’s pulled away late for a 71-65 win.

Is the third time the charm? BYU hopes so.

“We’re looking forward to it,” said BYU guard Spencer Johnson. “People always say it’s hard to beat a team three times. So definitely, we’re going to take Sunday to prep and come out fighting. We’re gonna give them a game.”

After wins over Portland and LMU, BYU has momentum coming into Monday night’s ESPN tilt with the Gaels. But Saint Mary’s is in another stratosphere of the teams that BYU has defeated to get to this game.

Shooting the ball and how to speed up the Gaels

Since 1990, BYU has only won two games in conference tournaments over AP Top 25 teams. However, one of those victories did come against a ranked Gaels squad in 2018.

To pull off the upset, BYU will need to shoot the ball the way they did on Saturday against LMU. BYU knocked down 47% of its three-point attempts against the Lions. In the previous meeting against the Gaels, BYU shot that same 47% clip, and it gave them a chance to pull the upset.

That shooting percentage can swing things in BYU’s favor on a neutral floor, where more BYU fans will likely be in attendance than Gael fans.

Because one thing you know with Saint Mary’s, who has been off since February 25, they will control the tempo. Randy Bennett’s team is 359th out of 363 teams nationally in adjusted tempo metrics by KenPom.

“We kind of shrink the floor with them and then make them make decisions that they don’t want to make, kind of limit keeping the ball out of guy’s hands like Aidan Mahaney and Logan Johnson,” said BYU guard Rudi Williams. “I do remember when they came up to Provo. We pressed them a little bit. That game we were shorthanded and we gave them a little bit of trouble like that. So, you know, I’m not the coach but I do remember those things that we have had some success with.”

Williams is a crucial cog for BYU. After primarily coming off the bench during all but the regular season finale, Williams has shined in the starting lineup. Against LMU, the former Coastal Carolina and Kansas State guard scored 23 points and was close to perfect from the free throw line. Knocking down 11 of his 12 attempts from the charity stripe.

‘Senior magic’ from BYU basketball guard Rudi Williams?

BYU coach Mark Pope always believes seniors can do magical things. So to get a win over a Gaels squad that comes in with a 25-6 record, 19-win BYU is going to need some of that magic to come to life on The Orleans Arena floor.

“Rudi Williams is going to be a guy that we talk about for the next 10 years at BYU as being one of the great teammates of all time,” said Pope. “He’s the definition of making it about the team first, and he’s an unbelievable leader.”

Saint Mary’s leads the overall series with BYU 19-18. Monday night is the last time the two schools will square off as WCC rivals. A big game and a significant opportunity for BYU to show if their success in this tournament was a byproduct of the opponents they faced or if they have made the progress to cause some madness in March.

BYU vs. No. 17 Saint Mary’s

2023 WCC Tournament Semifinals

Date: March 6th, 2023

Tip: 7 p.m.


Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM)

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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 Mitch’s coverage of BYU moving to the Big 12 Conference on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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BYU Continues WCC Tournament Run Against Saint Mary’s In Semifinals