Saint Mary's and BYU have played some classic games since becoming conference rivals a few seasons back. Making their exciting games all the more interesting is that whichever team loses their first match-up of the season is put almost out of contention for first place in the WCC.
Actually, since BYU joined the WCC whichever team won the first game of the season between these two teams would go on to finish higher in the standings.
The Gaels' win tonight puts them on track for another run at Gonzaga for WCC supremacy.
Actually, next up for Saint Mary's (now 7-0 in WCC play) is a trip to Spokane to face 7-0 Gonzaga.
The Cougars went with their now-usual four guard line-up to start the game. But, for the second game in a row, Skyler Halford replaced the injured Anson Winder (14.7 ppg, 2nd on the team).
Saint Mary's and BYU began by trading buckets. Neither team managed to maintain a multi-possession lead.
Tyler Haws did what Tyler Haws does, scoring 15 points in the first half. His backcourt counterparts of Chase Fischer (11 first half points) and Kyle Collinsworth (8 first half points) also looked like they usually do. But, without Anson Winder, there was a precipitous drop off after that trio.
No first half free throws, and only one first half field goal, came from any other Cougar.
That lack of depth, coupled by an 18-4 Saint Mary's run to end the half was the beginning of the end for the Cougars.
BYU's first two possessions of the second half ended in turnovers. On the other end the Gaels drew two fouls on their first two possessions. Shortly thereafter, Kyle Collinsworth picked up his fourth personal foul at the 16:54 mark.
Scoreless in the first half, Skyler Halford was a man possessed early in the second. Halford scored seven quick points to pull the Cougars from a double-digit deficit to within two possessions. His effort ultimately was done to no avail, as the Gaels countered with their own starter who had a quiet first half.
The Cougars kept Brad Waldow's scoring in check for the first half, but the Cougars couldn't keep the 20 plus points per game scorer down forever. Waldow scored 11 straight points from the 15:20 mark thru 12:31 as the Gaels raced out to a double-digit lead.
Not to take anything away from Waldow's shooting ability, but the timing of his solo scoring run had a lot to do with BYU's personnel. Foul trouble hampered the Cougars' frontcourt, in addition to Collinsworth — who despite being listed as a guard often finds himself defending, and more often providing help on, opposing bigs — sitting on the bench with four fouls.
The quick-coming double-teams that made work hard for Waldow in the first simply weren't there in the second.
BYU might not be able to defend, but the Cougars sure can score. They scored just enough to stay in the game.
Chase Fischer hit a three with 2:26 to play to make it a one-possession game for the first time since the first half. Some great ball movement later and Emmett Narr knocked down a three of his own to restore the Gaels' two-possession lead. After Garrett Jackson and Tyler Haws traded lay-ups, Skyler Halford drilled a three and, with 45 seconds to play, the Cougars trailed by just three points.
Halford then found himself playing tight defense on Aaron Bright, and probably slightly too aggressive defense given the situation. Halford was whistled or a foul, Bright hit both free throws and the scoring was done. Saint Mary's survived.
BYU falls to 15-6 (5-3) and into fourth place in the WCC standings. Saint Mary's improves to 16-3 (7-0).